Commission approves rezoning for Peanut Crossing

Published 10:58 pm Tuesday, August 20, 2019

A property that was once a peanut processing facility is one step closer to being developed as apartments following unanimous rezoning and conditional use permit approvals Tuesday by the Planning Commission.

Following a pair of public hearings, the commission approved the proposal from Edwin Gaskin of Golden Dreams LLC to rezone 10 acres of property at 273 S. Saratoga St. and grant a conditional use permit, allowing for up to 225 apartments at the site of the former Suffolk Peanut Company.

Gaskin said once the property is redeveloped, it will be a defining feature of south Suffolk and extend the vibrancy of the city’s downtown.

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“This (site) is very significant historically, not only for the role it’s had in Suffolk’s industrial history,” Gaskin said, “but also its significance in terms of size and complexity. This is an exciting project. It’s also a very complex project, with many moving parts — 17 or so structures and significant redevelopment work to do to make even part of viable and economically feasible.”

The apartment complex, to be known as Peanut Crossing, will have at least 80 percent of them being studio or one-bedroom units, according to the rezoning application.

City staff, noting that the proposal fits in with the city’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan and Unified Development Ordinance, recommended approval of the rezoning and conditional use permit.

Gaskin said during the public hearing that the site would no longer remain derelict and would become relevant.

“We think its successful redevelopment will not only benefit the site itself, it will certainly have positive reverberations through the surrounding neighborhood,” Gaskin said.

The property borders Wellons and South Saratoga streets, as well as the Norfolk Southern Railroad mainline on the north end of the property and an industrial use to the south.

The change in rezoning would be from heavy industry zoning district to central business district. That’s something Steve Romine brought up during the public hearing. Romine, representing owners of property at 425 S. Saratoga St., said they were not opposed to the project, but had questions and concerns about it. He said the project would take 10 of the 13 acres of the triangular-shaped property, and leave a three-acre property with heavy industry zoning.

“I would venture to say, personally, that we don’t oppose the rezoning and the (conditional) use permit,” Romine said. “That’s positive. But we do believe that it is not comprehensive, and it does not include the whole corridor. In fact, it may amount to a spot rezoning.”

Commission Chairman Howard Benton told Romine that the city has been looking at the property for many years.

“I think that whole triangle has been looked at for quite some time,” Benton said. “But I think at the same time, before the city takes any action to rezone anything, they want to see what is a practical use going forward, a realistic use, that can develop that land. … I find it hard to believe that you would be left as an island, unique within itself, when all is said and done.”

Benton asked if Romine had tried to rezone the property at 425 S. Saratoga St. in the past.

“We have had various dialogues,” Romine said. “We brought forth a use permit about 10 years ago that did have support, but that was using it for the industrial piece.”

He said the property owners said they may hire an engineer to put forth a conceptual plan to find a compatible use for their property.

City Council will hold a public hearing on the proposal at its Sept. 18 meeting. If approved, Gaskin said the first phase would consist of 54 apartments in a pair of buildings adjacent to the railroad tracks — one of those a five-story structure and the other one-story. He said the reason to develop those two buildings first is to draw people into the site and to address the biggest eyesores on the property. The project would be built in four to five phases, according to the application, and include indoor parking for residents and indoor storage for rent.

The plan calls for using federal and state historic tax credits to renovate existing structures that qualify under the program, and it does not call for adding any additional structures. Gaskin did note that not all the buildings had to stay on the property, saying the more modern buildings on the site that are “non-contributing” to its historic nature would not have to stay. One he cited as a possibility for removal is a blue metal building that fronts South Saratoga Street.

“We have a vision of what it might be,” Gaskin said. “There are some blanks to fill in that need to ebb and flow with market forces, and as successes present themselves. But we think we have a good concept that’s being presented.”