Study the Obici property

Published 7:09 pm Wednesday, April 22, 2015

One could argue — and, indeed, many have — that apartments are the last type of development Suffolk should allow on the North Main Street site of the old Obici Hospital. Nightmarish traffic conditions, overcrowded schools and the loss of potential access to the property by the public would all be likely results of a proposed plan to build 224 apartments on the site, along with 30,000 square feet of office and commercial space and 52,500 square feet of retail space.

A growing contingent of citizens has been lobbying for city officials to turn down the rezoning that would be necessary for such a project to move forward and, instead, to pursue building a public park on the 27-acre property. They left Tuesday’s meeting of the Suffolk Planning Commission disappointed that their request was not heeded.

But the Planning Commission was never where the Obici Community Park, as some are calling the counterproposal for the property, was going to live or die. The Planning Commission can only recommend, so it was always going to be powerless to appoint a committee to study the park idea, hire a company to investigate alternatives to a mixed-use development or do just about anything other than carry out the plan that was set into action by a former City Council that had made it clear the desire for the Obici property was for more of the same-old, same-old in downtown Suffolk.

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With council having been remade by the November elections, however, there is still some chance of success for those who oppose construction of 224 apartments, whether they’re in favor of building a park on the site or not.

Suffolk City Council will hear the rezoning request during its meeting on May 20, and the elected members of that body have the power to hire a consultant, to appoint a committee or to direct staff to conduct a study to determine what would be the highest and best use of the property. That’s a study that has never been done, and it’s one the people of Suffolk deserve, even if it determines the site is not best suited for a park.

There will always be time to build apartments on the site, but once those apartments are approved, there may never be another chance to do the best thing there.