White Marsh development OK’d

Published 10:28 pm Wednesday, December 16, 2015

City Council on Wednesday approved a residential subdivision with 319 homes on a 125-acre parcel off White Marsh Road.

Eight nearby residents spoke against the project during the public hearing, complaining about traffic and drainage issues that already exist and arguing to keep the rural nature of the area.

But City Council members noted the area is at the edge of the growth area delineated in the city’s comprehensive plan. Gary Werner, president of Franciscus Homes, also argued that the problems wouldn’t get fixed without the development.

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“The answer is not to walk away and do nothing,” Werner said. I believe that the answer is to embrace responsible growth. I believe we could all work together to diminish that cut-through traffic.”

The developer has offered to improve the intersections of White Marsh Road and East Washington Street and East Washington Street and Portsmouth Boulevard at its own expense. But speakers during the public hearing said that wasn’t enough.

“Our major concern is the amount of traffic that will be generated,” said William Goodman of the East Suffolk Gardens neighborhood.

Harvey Whitney agreed.

“We’re not against growth, but please consider neighbors and neighborhoods,” Whitney said.

Dennis Godwin said drainage along White Marsh Road is an issue, and he believes it will get worse when the development comes to fruition.

“We need to improve White Marsh Road first before we even consider bringing something like this down here,” Godwin said.

The Planning Commission last month voted unanimously to recommend denial of the rezoning. But an addition to the proffers between then and Wednesday night was a right-of-way through the site to begin a connector road between White Marsh and Hosier roads and eventually to Carolina Road.

Another change was that some neighbors spoke in favor of the project on Wednesday.

“I think it’s a good project,” said Billy Hunter, a White Marsh Road resident. He bemoaned the fact that North Suffolk gets more development than the southern area.

“This side has not taken off; I think it should get the opportunity,” he said.

Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett and Councilmen Lue Ward and Tim Johnson were the three votes against the project on Wednesday. All three seemed to have traffic as their main concern.

“This city so often puts the cart before the horse,” Johnson said. “If we can get the traffic right, it will make a huge difference, but we need to get the traffic right.”

Bennett initially made a motion to deny, and it failed 3-5. Councilman Don Goldberg then made the motion to approve, and it passed 5-3.

The developer will pay about $5,280 per home for middle school capacity, as well as on-site and off-site traffic improvements, utility improvements and more.