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Council votes down Turlington Road development

A developer who wanted a Turlington Road property rezoned to allow him to build 101 new homes will not be able to do so after the Suffolk City Council rejected his rezoning request.

Council voted 5-3 at its Aug. 5 meeting to decline a request to rezone property that would have given the go-ahead for the development.

Mayor Linda T. Johnson and Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett, along with Councilmen Curtis Milteer, Lue Ward and Tim Johnson, voted to deny the rezoning the Turlington Road property from agricultural to residential low medium density. Councilmen Mike Duman, Roger Fawcett and Donald Goldberg voted in support of the rezoning.

Residents, along with the councilmembers who voted against the rezoning, cited concerns with traffic, flooding and schools in their opposition to the project.

The property owner, Bobby Johnson of Turlington Road Associates, had proposed putting a 101-home subdivision on more than 81 acres of mostly cultivated farmland. Surrounding the property are several single-family homes, farmland and the Calvary Baptist Missionary Church.

Ron Gradine, who lives on Turlington Road, expressed concerns about flooding, school overcrowding and traffic. He said in a bad storm, the increase in impervious surfaces and the lack of drainage in the proposed retention ponds would be “like turning a firehose on our property.”

“You can’t back out on Turlington Road now,” Gradine said. “Put an additional 200 to 300 more cars, and what’s it going to be like in the mornings and evenings?”

The Planning Department’s staff report on the proposed rezoning indicated that the project would have generated 77 total morning trips and 103 afternoon and evening trips.

Kandy Lewis, a Turlington Road resident, and Pastor Steve Kennedy of Calvary Baptist Missionary Church also cited traffic concerns in opposing the rezoning for the proposed development.

Kennedy said the development, which would have been behind his church, would cause additional issues with flooding on its property, and it would have to pay a higher flood insurance cost.

Lacey Gross, who also spoke at a public hearing of the Planning Commission, reiterated her concerns about the 100-foot easement on her Turlington Road property that goes over her current drain fields that are attached to her septic system. She said she was not initially opposed to the project and had been hopeful for a resolution, but could not get one she felt was adequate.

Some council members expressed concerns about the vote by the Planning Commission not to recommend the rezoning. When commission members voted on a resolution to approve the rezoning, just three of the eight members present voted in favor of it, and the commission forwarded the request to council without a formal recommendation to approve or deny the request.

“I can’t remember any matter coming before the Planning Commission, and them not making a recommendation,” Milteer said.

Said Councilman Tim Johnson: “The simple fact that the Planning Commission refused to do anything with this, to me, is a rejection of the matter.”

Duman, who called for the rezoning request to be tabled for 60 days, called the commission’s vote “a no-decision.” Fawcett seconded the motion, but Council instead voted on a substitute motion from Milteer — seconded by Councilman Tim Johnson — to deny the rezoning request.

City Attorney Helivi Holland said the commission followed her advice and is only a recommending body.

“I don’t want it to be stated that the Planning Commission did anything wrong,” Holland said. “The law states that if the motion is made, that what is reported is the result of the motion. At any time prior to going to the next item, the Planning Commission could make a motion to do otherwise. But the Planning Commission was split, and so when they asked the question of me of what the law required, I responded to them that they did not have to do anything beyond that because what will be reported to the council, as the deciding body, would be the decision that was made.”

Johnson said he was concerned about Turlington Road becoming a growth corridor and traffic

on it was intense, and that he believed the estimate for 19 elementary-age children coming from the development to be low.

Duman, however, said he was concerned about what message it would send to developers and those wanting to invest in the city if the rezoning was denied, especially since he noted the developer of the Turlington Road project had been working on it for more than two years. David Hainley, director of Planning and Community Development, said there are between 150 and 200 housing units in the pipeline, and about 4,000 units across the city that have been approved for development.

Other councilmembers weighed in on various issues that Turlington Road residents raised about the project. Bennett said he had serious concerns about the project, citing the issues residents raised during the public hearing.

The mayor said she visited the area where the development was to be located, noting she had tried to back onto Turlington Road before someone told her to not back onto it and allowed her to drive through his yard.

“It’s just a piece of property back there, kind of locked in, and we’re putting it with an easement to get back there,” the mayor said. “It’s disturbing when you go and look.”