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Council approves events venue

Suffolk City Council on Wednesday approved an events venue in the southern end of the city off White Marsh Road in spite of opposition from nearby residents.

Council voted 7-1 in favor of Veronica and Mark Thompson’s plan to establish a venue to host weddings and corporate events on nearly 23 acres. Councilman Curtis Milteer was the lone vote against the proposal.

The Thompsons plan to build a 6,000-square-foot barn with an 18-foot veranda to be used as an event venue, and plan to add a one- to two-acre pond with a peninsula as a site to host weddings. It would also have a 95-space parking lot.

The Planning Commission had previously recommended approval by a vote of 7-1.

They say the event venue would operate from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, with weekend hours from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. They say all events would be finished by 11 p.m. and all guests off the property by midnight.

Though the proposed maximum occupancy for the venue would be 225 people, Veronica Thompson explained to City Council during a public hearing Wednesday that the venue would most likely have between 125 to 150 people at any one time.

“We feel that this venue is something that has been lacking in the Hampton Roads area and would be an ideal fit for the rural area of Suffolk,” Veronica Thompson said. Tiffany Rosier, who runs the Suffolk-based photography business AllStar Photobooth, voiced support for the venue and said it would make the city more of a destination location.

Opponents of the venue said during the public hearing they had concerns about traffic, the road conditions and possible increase in accidents, as well as the noise they believe would come from the venue during events.

Kenneth Payne, who lives on White Marsh Road across from the proposed venue, said his concerns were related to traffic, the poor road conditions and noise.

“My wife and I moved to our current address to escape congestion and city noise, and all of the traffic,” Payne said. “And in addition, I like being able to see the stars at night, and a venue there will add additional lighting. We just want a nice country life and not have the traffic and commotion of additional people coming to (an) event.”

Charles Brothers, who farms in that area, said White Marsh Road is a vital road for at least six agricultural producers in that end of the city. He said increased traffic on the road would pose difficulties for farmers’ wider equipment.

“I challenge you today to make sure that you don’t create any more competition that we cannot weather,” Brothers said.

Vickie Williams, who attends nearby Cypress Chapel Christian Church, said while locals know how curvy and dangerous the roads are, those coming to the property will not.

“I’d love to see a venue like this in Suffolk. I think it’s a wonderful thing; the pictures are wonderful,” Williams said. “But I’m not sure that is exactly the right place for it, right across the street from houses backing up to new houses. It is a very quiet, rural area.”

Robin Patterson, who lives on Cypress Chapel Road, said having worked at events like those proposed for the Thompsons’ venue, she is concerned about drinking and possible drug use, and then people driving to a hotel after an event.

“People will have to leave and go at least 20 minutes, and hopefully they won’t be impaired when they do it,” Patterson said.

Veronica Thompson, responding to residents’ concerns, said a traffic impact assessment shows a minimal increase in traffic. She expects visitors to the property to use Route 32, and they would only be on White Marsh Road for about 600 feet. She also said their venue will require security for any event with alcohol, and the venue will post signs to encourage people to use ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber.

The property, she said, would also have a surveillance camera and security system. Veronica Thompson said she will also most likely use a form of solar lighting to minimize lighting impact on the community.

As for any noise, she said the property would abide by the city noise ordinance and will also plant trees to create a noise barrier around the entire property. She also noted that the closest home to her property is 600 feet away, and others across the street are 800 to 900 feet away.

Veronica Thompson also said there are not many events during the week, with those occasions likely to be used to show the property to prospective customers.