Concerned residents oppose rezoning effort

Published 7:21 pm Friday, July 15, 2022

By Joe Banish

Contributing writer

For residents in the North Suffolk area near Shoulders Hill Road, the thought of adding 131 homes to an already congested area is unfathomable. Residents cite increased traffic and depletion of wildlife, as factors which will contribute to the loss of tranquility they sought when building homes in the area.

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An advocacy group of concerned citizens assembled on Thursday, July 14 to outline their concerns, and coordinate talking points to present before Suffolk City Council.

The land in question comprises 65 acres near Bennet’s Creek. Of these 65 acres, 45 have been approved for development, with the remaining 20 acres designated as environmentally protected. Under current zoning guidelines, the property is classified as RR (rural residential) denoting a one house per acre limit. The developer, Bob Arnette, and his company Bob White Development LLC, has lobbied the Suffolk Planning Commission to rezone the land to RLM (residential low-medium density), which would allow 131 houses to be built, or 2.9 units per acre.

On June 21, Arnette’s efforts were successful. According to Resolution No. 22-06-02, the planning commission found the proposed rezoning “reasonable,” concluding that the proposal does not conflict with the land’s existing character, transportation infrastructure, conservation of natural resources, or residents’ property values. Following a 4-3 vote opposing a motion to stop the proposed rezoning, the proposal advanced to the city council consideration July 20.

Thelonious McLean-Burrell, who has lived in the area since 2017, believes such rapid development will “saturate” Bob White Lane, a dead-end, no outlet street, and the primary thoroughfare for residents to access their homes. According to McLean-Burrell, traffic now becomes so congested that he has seen emergency vehicles unduly delayed. And he believes the traffic congestion solution proffered by Arnette is inadequate. In a document presented at the June 21 planning commission meeting, Arnette proposed contributing funds to “accommodate the addition of a westbound left turn lane on Pughsville Road at the intersection of Shoulders Hill Rd.” Mclean-Burrell believes that rather than alleviate traffic, this proposal would just “push more traffic onto Bob White Lane.

Evelyn Jones, who hosted Thursday night’s meeting, is concerned about the environmental impact such a large scale development would entail. She said that the Bennet’s Creek area and surrounding foliage supports a diverse array of wildlife, including bear, deer, and a family of barred owls, which have built a nest near her home. Proximity to such wildlife, Jones said, adds to the charm of her neighborhood and is a major reason why she has lived there for decades.

The fate of Arnette’s proposed rezoning now rests in the city council’s hands. The residents who met Thursday plan to make their presence felt at this Wednesday’s meeting. They view the meeting as the last chance to halt Arnette’s project, which in their opinion would adversely impact their quality of life.