New plan could bring big changes

Published 9:12 pm Wednesday, February 11, 2015

By Chris Dove

On Feb. 18, City Council will consider changes to the comprehensive plan that will have a major impact on the citizens of Suffolk. Those living near Pitchkettle Road, Wilroy Road, Nansemond Parkway and Portsmouth Boulevard will all see their property values decreased and traffic congestion increase.

Property values will decrease when the city permits high-density developments five to 20 times the low-density currently allowed. These high-density developments will double or triple the number of vehicles on these roadways.

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The draft Comprehensive Plan 2035 already projects the level of service for these roadways will degrade to borderline unstable or worse.

The stated cause of these drastic increases in residential densities is that there will not be enough excess residentially developable land 20 years from now. Our city planners have just realized that when they limited development to certain areas, they eventually would run out of room.

To add insult to injury, they mouth the phrase “stay the course” while drastically changing the current plan’s low-density rural development areas into high-density urban ones.

The draft comprehensive plan shows the current densities for the inner-ring suburban area ranging from three to five units per acre. The city’s zoning map shows the area actually ranges from 0.3 to 2.9 units per acre, excluding two conditionally rezoned parcels that allow 10.9 units per acre. The draft plan shows new densities increasing to 6-15 units per acre.

Comparing the least to the least and the greatest to the greatest we see 6 is twenty times 0.3 and 16 is five times 2.9.

To put this in perspective, take a look at the lot next door and imagine 20 homes there, or more likely mobile homes or an apartment complex.

Not only are densities misrepresented in the draft comprehensive plan, but the actual developable land is, too. It may surprise you to learn that the city appears to have plans to tear down Elephant’s Fork Elementary and John F. Kennedy Middle schools to make room for new housing. If you look at the new draft plan it shows both these schools are on developable land.

Most disturbing to me is that my own home is shown as developable land. In fact my entire neighborhood of 98 existing homes is shown as developable land. Why the increase in densities if the city plans on making everything open for new development all over again?

Coincidently the draft plan shows Elephant’s Fork Elementary School is currently 141 percent over capacity. Yet the plan makes no attempt to deal with the projected increase in student population for this school as a result of the huge increases in the density of developments supported by the school.

With a few exceptions Council is getting ready to authorize one of the biggest rezonings in Suffolk’s history while claiming it is no big deal. If you don’t want your child’s school torn down to make room for apartments, if you don’t want a mobile home park built next door, then contact your council member and the mayor.

Better still, show up at the council meeting on Feb. 18 and let council know that you want smart growth, not just growth.

Chris Dove lives in Suffolk. Email him at