Someone was listening

Published 10:29 pm Monday, November 14, 2016

Suffolk residents have once again learned a lesson about the importance of zoning, but this time — thanks to a developer’s decision that is surprising in its rarity — that lesson has not come the hard way.

The city’s planning commission was set to hear a request today from developers wishing to rezone a 13.7-acre parcel in Harbour View to the residential urban classification. If the rezoning had been successful, it would have been developed for 247 single-family and multi-family housing units. The parcel is currently zoned for office and institutional uses.

In recent years, several such rezoning requests have met with vigorous opposition, but Suffolk has generally been accommodating to developers, giving the city a reputation as something of an easy mark for residential development and putting it in a position of having to build new schools and infrastructure to serve thousands of new homes.

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There was plenty of reason to believe this request would sail through, much like most of the rest have done. But a group of residents from the area around the Bridgeview site noticed the rezoning signs in their neighborhood and spoke up, prompting the developer to set up a meeting with them last week.

That meeting prompted the surprising result of the developer directing its attorney to draft a letter to planners in which the rezoning request was withdrawn, even though staff members in the planning department had recommended allowing the rezoning to be approved.

Neighbors were concerned about traffic, school overcrowding, declining property values, the financial impact to the city, design and construction standards, liability if the new apartment residents were injured on homeowners association property without being members of the HOA, and more.

The site can still be developed under its current zoning for office and institutional space, and a growing economy, coupled with the increasing attractiveness of Harbour View for those uses, gives reason to believe that it will not sit empty indefinitely.

The lesson in zoning is one that Suffolk residents seem to have gotten, even if the city’s planning staff seems to be blind to it. Suffolk’s comprehensive plan, which set the zoning for this and other properties around the city, was written the way it was for a reason. There are places in the city that are good for residential development and places that are better for other types of uses.

It’s a sad commentary on Suffolk that a developer listened more closely to the city’s residents than the staff at City Hall. But we’re glad that at least someone was listening.