Rezoning approved

Published 10:12 pm Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Suffolk City Council on Wednesday approved a mixed-use development on North Main Street at the location of the former Louise Obici Memorial Hospital.

The decision followed more than six months of public dialogue on the best use for the site. Some citizens campaigned for the site to be turned into a park or a green space and had hoped for more time to have a study done on the benefits of a park.

Some City Council members were inclined to give them additional time.

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“I just want to give people a little time to do their research,” Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett said. “If you don’t give them the opportunity to do their research, that leaves a little bit of a bad taste in people’s minds.”

Others, however, said there had been enough time, as the project had been proposed as a mixed-use development for a decade.

“I am tired of looking at a vacant piece of property,” Councilman Mike Duman said. “I would hate to see the Obici property continue to sit there.”

The 27.5-acre parcel is owned by the Economic Development Authority, which is under contract to sell the back half of the site to Waverton Associates. Waverton plans a 224-apartment complex there. The EDA would develop the front part of the site as retail and office space.

Duman estimated city taxpayers have about $10 million in the property after the $4.5 million purchase cost, lost revenue and other costs.

“With $10 million down the drain, 10 years from now it could be $18 or $20 million,” Duman said.

In the agenda speakers portion of the meeting, two speakers continued to express alarm over traffic numbers in front of the site.

“You were provided with incomplete information which is disturbingly light on facts,” Geoff Payne said. “All they want you to do is apply the rubber stamp.”

He was concerned about traffic numbers in a report produced by Kimley-Horn that appear to conflict with each other — about 27,000 vehicles per day in front of the site is mentioned in one place, while about 32,000 vehicles per day is mentioned in another place.

“These are magic cars. They appear and disappear as it suits Kimley-Horn,” Payne said.

City traffic engineer Robert Lewis said some vehicles don’t travel along the entire corridor on each trip before visiting a business and returning, thereby doubling up on one direction and not being counted in front of the site at all.

Stella Payne expressed concern about declining property values and “impossible U-turns” for residents in neighborhoods across the street.

But that didn’t sway Duman, who rattled off a list of things the EDA could develop on the site with no further action from City Council. An auto repair shop, gas station, indoor flea market, big-box retail and other options were all included.

“An MUD is certainly more palatable to me than a B-2 anything at this point,” Duman said, referring to the current zoning.

The rezoning passed 4-3 after Duman’s motion, which was seconded by Councilman Lue Ward. Councilmen Curtis Milteer and Mayor Linda T. Johnson joined them.

Bennett and Councilmen Tim Johnson and Don Goldberg voted against the rezoning.

Councilman Roger Fawcett abstained, citing personal and business relationships with Waverton.