Plan for smart growth

Published 8:19 pm Saturday, February 21, 2015

When Suffolk’s planning commission meets again on March 3, members will consider projects that could result in the construction of more than 200 new housing units around the city. There may be no better indicator of the improving economy than that.

Barring some new bursting bubble, agendas such as the one the commission will face next month are likely to become ever more common. Suffolk has become one of the most desirable locations for growth in Hampton Roads, and no amount of wishing it weren’t so by the keep-it-small crowd will change the fact.

Which isn’t to say that the city must — or should — blindly and blithely accept any and all offers that come its way from developers eager to stake their claim to a portion of the profits to be made in Surprising Suffolk.

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It will be important for the city’s planners to carefully consider proposed projects on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they’re appropriate for the communities where they would be located, whether the existing and planned infrastructure — especially roads, water and schools — would support them and whether the developers’ proffers would offset any potential problems that would arise from the developments.

Proffers and school impacts are two areas Suffolk needs to consider carefully in its comprehensive plan review and in future land use hearings. Considering the cost of a new school, requiring proffers that cover little more than the cost of educating a child for a year is probably not sufficient. The city should set proffers at a level that ensures developers share a significant part of the burden of building whatever new schools their projects are likely to require. And planners must make realistic projections about the number of new students a new set of apartments, townhomes or single-family dwellings would create.

Growth in Suffolk is inevitable. Smart growth that protects all taxpayers and elevates the quality of life for everyone, however, takes real effort.