Time for ‘re-vision’ of Obici plans

Published 8:42 pm Monday, April 20, 2015

To the editor:

Back in the day (1990s), downtown Suffolk development initiatives were a major focus for our city leaders and the city’s comprehensive plan.

An internationally renowned urban design specialist, Ray Gindroz, was hired to consult and guide a revitalization of our downtown, our core city, to attract new development, including residential, commercial and civic uses.

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Citizens of Suffolk, Gindroz pointed out, are blessed to have a town center on which to build. Virginia Beach, for example, is spending many millions to create a town center. A vision was necessary to make the center of our vast city a destination.

From this collaboration of city officials and engaged citizens and other supporters, a number of significant improvements came into existence: renovation of the Professional Building, The Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, a hotel and convention center (Hilton Garden Inn) and Constant’s Wharf Park, to mention a few. All these facilities have been major pieces to the downtown development.

Another project that has impacted downtown development was the construction of the new Sentara Obici Hospital. Re-establishing this facility outside the bypass provided the city with a wonderful opportunity to develop the original site of Obici Hospital.

This 27-acre greenspace is located perfectly for further development to enhance our downtown Suffolk experience. Our Economic Development group proposes to rezone the property to allow mixed-use development, with the first piece being a 224-unit apartment complex.

There are many negatives regarding this proposal, whose contract is pending a rezoning that will be under consideration by the Planning Commission today. The proposed project would overburden our school system, add traffic problems not in line with VDOT guidelines and create additional infrastructure problems.

A group of concerned citizens would like to see this green space become an oasis in our town center area. The Community for an Obici Park organization has received more than 2,000 signatures from people who agree that a park, not apartments, would better serve the citizens of and visitors to our fair city.

We ask that the Planning Commission consider postponing a rezoning of this property so we can step back, take a deep breath and determine how to best use this resource.

Green space in the downtown area is scarce. Would allowing 224 apartments be the best use of this asset? What would Mr. Obici see as the best use of this green space?

I encourage our City Council and other city leaders to revisit the vision for downtown development and to “re-vision” our future with a longer view of preservation, restoration and redevelopment.

Phil McPhail