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Planners deny housing development

The Suffolk Planning Commission on Tuesday voted against a rezoning request that would bring more than 400 apartments and four-plex housing off of Pruden Boulevard, citing concerns with the number of students that would come with it and the proffer amount for elementary schools.

The commission had a public hearing at its April meeting and then voted to table a proposal to rezone 48 of the property’s 57 acres from general commercial to residential urban-12 zoning for the proposed 414-unit development on property at 2575 and 2665 Pruden Blvd., near Murphys Mill Road.

On Tuesday, after deciding not to defer the matter longer when Director of Planning and Community Development David Hainley said it was unlikely that the developer would be amenable to an increased proffer amount, the commission voted 6-2 to deny the request.

The matter will now be taken up June 19 by the City Council, which will have the final say on whether the project goes forward.

The rezoning request was submitted by Melissa Venable, an agent for Land Planning Solutions on behalf of John Napolitano of Napolitano Homes in Virginia Beach. The city’s staff report noted that there will be 312 apartments and another 102 four-plex units on the property.

In response to discussion at the planners’ April 16 meeting, the developer updated its proffer statement to limit development to no more than 414 multi-family units, “which alleviates the concern that the applicant could construct a different housing product that may have greater impacts to public facilities.”

However, its $20,000 proffer per student for 104 additional elementary school students projected to attend Elephant’s Fork Elementary School was left unchanged. The staff report called for a $33,125 per-student proffer.

The staff report also notes the reason for wanting to put housing on the property is that “commercial use on the site is not viable,” with market research showing strong demand for housing along the corridor, especially with commercial growth along nearby North Main Street and Pruden Boulevard.

However, the staff report also notes that there are more than 10,000 residential units in the pipeline, with about 7,400 of those representing committed development — meaning developments which have received a final plat approval, final site plan approval, and final engineering plan approval and building permits.

The staff report notes that “the applicant is not sufficiently mitigating impacts that this development will impose at the elementary school level.”

According to the level of service criteria at the elementary school level, Elephant’s Fork has a 498-student capacity and a current enrollment of 567 students. Committed development is slated to generate another 82 students, which would put the school at 151 students over capacity before the new development, according to the staff report.

In the 2020-2029 Capital Improvements Program and Plan, a new $26.5-million downtown elementary school with an 800-student capacity is planned, but not slated for funding until sometime between 2025 to 2029, the staff report states. However, it notes that the project at Hallstead Reserve would see units be occupied by 2021, with a complete buildout by 2024.

Commissioner John Rector asked, if the developer were to offer the full proffer and the city subsequently approved the development, how the school division would handle the influx of students.

Planner Kevin Wyne said the School Board would have to decide how to handle the overcrowded school, noting that the amount proffered would go toward constructing a new elementary school.

“Ultimately, that decision would be made at the School Board level, how to accommodate overcrowding, whether that’s redistricting, perhaps, or making the accommodations through trailers or something of that nature,” Wyne said. “They have options available to them, but that’s their decision.”

Commission Vice Chairman Arthur Singleton asked if the rezoning proposal could be tabled again, and whether that could result in progress to get closer to the proffered amount proposed in the staff report. Hainley said it could be delayed for at least another 30 days, but he was not optimistic about making that progress.

“We’ve had several meetings, and I don’t know that the developer and staff can come to a conclusion that would bring it to direct compliance with the recommendation from staff,” Hainley said.

Commission Chairman Howard Benton asked whether taxpayers would have to subsidize the cost of education for the children in the proposed development if it passed.

Hainley said that, if the student generation rate is correct, and the cost of the proposed school is correct, then the answer would be yes.

Commissioner Johnnie Edwards, who was the one vote against deferring the rezoning request in April, and was one of the two votes against denying the recommendation Tuesday, said there are a lot of uncertainties in the proposal.

“We’ve had a lot of multifamily units and apartments and things being built in the city, and sometimes the numbers are always moving,” Edwards said. “And with a moving target, you don’t know if you’re going to get hit or if you’re not going to get hit. It’s all based off of ‘if.’

“So if it happens, we’re going to have a problem. If it doesn’t happen, we’re going to have a problem. So I would beseech the School Board to look at this situation very seriously, because something’s coming bad.”

Kittrell Eberwine also voted against denial.

Rector said the proposal is something he would like to support, but to put more students into Elephant’s Fork “is not a responsible thing for this body to do.”

“Their hands are tied,” Rector said, referring to the developer. “Our hands are tied.”