Apartments project a lesson in civics

Published 10:06 pm Thursday, June 22, 2017

To the editor:

The 144 garden apartments scheduled to break ground in 30 to 45 days at 3345 Bridge Road — between Bennett’s Creek to the west and Shoulders Hill Road to the east — provide an interesting civics lesson in elected city government.

The city’s comprehensive plan and zoning ordinance, thoughtfully prepared by professional planners (as required by Virginia law and for the benefit of the entire city) and adopted by the Planning Commission and City Council, did not provide for apartment development along Bridge Road.

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That was because it is a heavily traveled primary traffic artery serving Bennett’s Creek Landing, Sleepy Lake, Governor’s Point, Cedar Point, Eclipse and the James River Bridge leading to the Peninsula to the West; and Shoulders Hill Road, Harbor View and routes 64 and 664 and the Monitor Merrimac Bridge Tunnel to the east.

Sam Cohen, developer of the property and former president of the Tidewater Builders Association, was having trouble getting tenants for a commercial office development for which the property was zoned under the comprehensive plan.

So Mr. Cohen, over heavy opposition from those living along the primary artery, sought rezoning for 144 apartments. Both the professional planning staff and the Planning Commission recommended against the rezoning.

City Council, nevertheless, approved the rezoning. However, a majority of council members stated a conditional use permit, which was also required, would not be granted for the apartments. The rezoning would have permitted the developer to develop something that would impose a traffic burden somewhere between the level of an office park and 144 apartments.

After the last City Council elections, as reported by the Suffolk News Herald on Feb. 21, 2015, three council members who lost, and were thus lame ducks — Charles Brown, Jeffery Gardy and Charles Parr — each received a $1,000 campaign contribution from the Tidewater Builders Association.

They then, before leaving office and as lame ducks, each voted to grant the conditional use permit for the 144 apartments. Their three votes were crucial, because the use permit for the apartment complex was granted by a 4-2 vote of City Council.

The residents of Bennett’s Creek Landing, Governor’s Point, Sleepy Lake, Cedar Point and Eclipse, as well as those traveling Bridge Road, will now have to live with the traffic generated by those 144 apartments forever, all because of the votes of those three former city council members.

John Newhard