A new Suffolk image

Published 8:24 pm Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Suffolk may no longer be the fastest-growing city in Hampton Roads, but it’s still pretty close, and anybody who’s paying attention can hardly fail to notice.

Officials at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service released their 2015 Virginia population estimates last week. With an estimated population of 90,426 — an increase of nearly 7 percent since the 2010 census — Suffolk’s population has grown far faster than the 4.5-percent rate that was the average for cities across the commonwealth. The rate was slightly behind the 7.2 percent registered in neighboring Chesapeake.

Suffolk and Chesapeake have a few things in common besides a border, and those similarities may have a lot to do with the fact that the two cities are out-growing the rest of Hampton Roads by leaps and bounds.

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One obvious similarity is the largely rural nature of much of the two cities. With space to grow, both offer attractive alternatives to the other densely developed cities of both South Hampton Roads and the Peninsula. As evidenced especially in North Suffolk, that elbow room is an enticement for developers and, by extension, homebuyers.

Of course, even as those developers and buyers look west toward the allure of green acres, the farmland is inexorably replaced by rooftops. This is a problem that will afflict Chesapeake sooner than it will affect Suffolk, which has more available space to begin with and starts with a lower population density. Chesapeake’s problem of dwindling developable space will then turn into Suffolk’s gain, spurring even more development here.

The biggest factor involved in bringing people to this part of Western Tidewater, however, is Hampton Roads’ transportation problems, and Suffolk will continue to benefit from those problems, even as it suffers a few of its own.

With tolls continuing to rise on routes across the Elizabeth River, the prospect of crossing that body of water in either direction (much less both directions every day) is increasingly unattractive. Especially as Suffolk adds high-paying jobs, folks will continue to find the city an enticing place to work and live — and an increasingly better choice when it comes to the family budget.

There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. Suffolk is destined for great growth. If you still think of it as sleepy little Suffolk, it might be time to re-think your image of Peanut City.