Condos draw split vote from planners

Published 10:07 pm Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Suffolk Planning Commission voted 5-3 Tuesday in favor of rezoning a property that was once slated to be a funeral home and owned by Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander to allow for a condominium development.

Commissioners Johnnie Edwards, Anita Hicks and Mills Staylor voted against the rezoning, while Chairman Howard Benton, Vice Chairman Arthur Singleton, Kittrell Eberwine, John Rector and Oliver Creekmore voted in favor of recommending the proposal to City Council, which will take up the matter Aug. 21.

While the total property for the condos would be 7.1 acres, the portion to be rezoned is 4.4 acres and is at the intersection of East Washington Street and Suburban Drive. If the rezoning from residential low medium density to residential urban receives final approval, Coastal Virginia Developers plans to build 76 single-family attached condominiums on the two properties, with each having a minimum living space of 1,250 square feet.

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Three of the four properties surrounding the proposed development are already zoned residential urban — including an assisted living facility to the south, Wilson Pines Apartments to the east and the vacant land Alexander already owns to the west.

In November 2014, City Council approved a conditional use permit for Alexander to operate a 17,000-square-foot funeral home and crematorium, though it was never built due to opposition from residents. Nearly three years later, Alexander received approval to open a funeral home at the site of the former DMV at 268 Holladay St.

Whitney Saunders, representing Alexander and Coastal Virginia Developers, which plans to develop the property, said its proposed use after the rezoning is compatible with what is now in the area. He said Alexander and the developer heard the desire of residents not to have a commercial business at that location.

“If there was one resounding voice of opposition to a commercial zoning here … that voice was that this should be a residential zoning,” Saunders said. “That’s been heard.”

He added that the proposed development would be named for Drs. L.T. and Margaret Reid, who practiced medicine in the Suffolk community for 42 years.

“When bringing this project to the community, and discussing it with Oak Grove (Baptist) Church and with people who live within this neighborhood, there seemed to be some definite desire to have two people who lived within this neighborhood honored,” Saunders said.

Saunders presented the commission with two petitions — one signed by members of Oak Grove Baptist Church, and another signed by the community, he said — with 50 people on one petition and another 25 to 27 on another.

Sylvia Copeland-Murphy, an assistant pastor at Oak Grove Baptist Church, spoke in favor of the project during a public hearing. She said she, the church trustees and its pastor met multiple times with the developer and addressed concerns about the type of housing it would be, the property’s upkeep and having access to the church’s cemetery, which is just behind the property. Copeland-Murphy said she was told the road to the cemetery would be widened to improve access to it.

Saunders also noted that a retention pond would be put in at its entrance.

Residents Margaret Barnes and Rosa Bowe opposed the project during Tuesday’s public hearing.

While Barnes said she had not read or seen the application for the rezoning request, “the disregard for the community is apparent” with the proposal, and it would bring too much traffic to a congested area. She said in 2014, she helped circulate a petition with more than 300 signatures to it that noted more than 97 percent of residents opposed the conditional use permit for the site. She wants the current zoning to remain unchanged.

“Go someplace more conducive for what it is you want to do and for the high volume of traffic you plan to generate,” Barnes said.

The staff report noted that the proposed development, which will be accessed from Suburban Drive, notes it would generate 38 total morning peak trips and 50 total afternoon peak trips if the site is developed to 76 units. Turn lanes would not be required for the project.

Barnes said that in the mid-1970s, the Reids could afford to move into a choice neighborhood, and tried to do so, but were turned away, instead living at the address where Bowe now lives, at 2540 E. Washington St., until they died.

“It’s not something that I think would honor them,” Barnes said. “They sold the house to someone who would retain the legacy of what they wanted to leave there. That property will never be sold for condos, or for RU zoning. It will not happen. It was a choice piece of property at that time and it still is. I think they would consider it an affront.”

Saunders said in response that while no one wants to have their neighborhood change, the proposal would fit in with the city’s comprehensive plan.

Hicks said she had concerns about the traffic, as well as the lack of buy-in from the residents nearest the property.

Commissioner Johnnie Edwards, who voted against the proposal, expressed concerns with community support and wanted assurances that there were no gravesites on the property.

“What this discussion has illuminated to me is that the community and the developers need to get together and have a conversation,” Edwards said, adding, “I think it would be very wise for that conversation to happen.”