Despite opposition, Planning Commission recommends rezoning for Port 460 Logistics Park project

Published 6:02 pm Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Despite scores of residents, business and Nansemond-Suffolk Academy officials raising concerns of the impacts of the proposed Port 460 Logistics Park on traffic, safety, the environment and stormwater during a public hearing Tuesday, the Planning Commission, in a split vote, recommended rezoning the property to accommodate the project.

An initial motion from Commissioner Anita Hicks in favor of rezoning the 540-acre property off U.S. Routes 460 and 58, Pitchkettle Road, Murphy’s Mill Road and Kings Fork Road from general commercial and agricultural to heavy manufacturing zoning failed for a lack of a second.

Commissioner Mills Staylor then made a motion to deny the rezoning, with Commission Vice Chairman John Rector seconding it. That failed, as just Staylor, Rector and Commissioner Kittrell Eberwine voted to deny the rezoning.

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Hicks then motioned a second time to approve the rezoning, with Commissioner Johnnie Edwards seconding it. That vote was 5-3 to recommend the rezoning, with Staylor, Rector and Eberwine voting no, while Chairman Arthur Singleton, Hicks, Edwards, Commissioner Gerald Goodman and Commissioner Oliver Creekmore voted in favor. City Council is expected to hold a public hearing on the rezoning at its Aug. 17 meeting.

The vote followed a public hearing that lasted about two hours, with commission deliberations taking nearly another hour as an overflow crowd filled City Council chambers and the corridor of City Hall for the public hearing, most expressing opposition to the proposal. Project officials, meanwhile, were adamant about the need for the project and sought to mitigate or minimize concerns raised.

Plans call for the development of 4.7 million square feet of warehouse space for an industrial park of 10 warehouse buildings on property that borders Routes 460 and 58, Kings Fork Road, Pitchkettle Road and Murphys Mill Road. About 24,000 square feet at the front of the property off of Route 460 calls for a mix of service retail — a restaurant, gas station and convenience store.

The site would be accessed by a main entrance at Pruden Boulevard and another on Pitchkettle Road, and an internal road network of three-and-four-lane public roads to connect the properties in the Port 460 project would also be built.

Project officials — along with a representative from the Port of Virginia — during the public hearing touted its potential economic impact as they noted they had been working with the city for more than nine months addressing project details. They said the project would provide nearly 2,600 construction jobs, about 9,000 jobs once the project is built out, $28.6 million to $34.1 million in property tax revenue to the city’s economy, and $16.2 million in yearly state income tax revenue. There would also be $30 million in road improvements and construction costs of around $420 million.

As part of the rezoning proposal, project officials said they would proffer allowable and conditional uses for the property, and complete improvements recommended in the traffic improvement analysis. They also plan to pay the city $4.5 million to be applied to preliminary engineering plans for road improvements from Route 58 eastbound off the ramp at Route 460/Pruden Boulevard to the intersection of Lake Prince Drive and Providence Drive. It also plans to give the city another $2.1 million to be applied to interchange improvements at Routes 58 and 460.

At a public meeting June 1, Brian Morris, a development manager with Matan Companies, a real estate company based in Frederick, Maryland, said the market in Suffolk had seen tremendous growth over the past two years and given what’s happening at the Port of Virginia, there is a need for more warehouse space.

However, opponents raised numerous issues with the proposal, and even after extending time for the public hearing after five people affiliated with NSA had spoken. Normally, public hearings are 30 minutes in length — 15 minutes each for proponents and opponents of a proposal. With more than 30 people wanting to speak, the commission voted to allow an additional 40 minutes for each side to speak.

Still, even after that time had finished and 14 project opponents had spoken, more were still wanting to speak, with some expressing frustration that they had little opportunity to speak and ask questions about the project, given that the project officials have been discussing it with the city since last November.

Karl Morris, director of development for the Matan Companies, the Frederick, Maryland-based applicant for the project, noted that project officials have had weekly, and even twice-weekly, calls with the departments of public utilities, public works and traffic engineering. He said they have also been working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality on addressing any environmental issues with the project.

Kelly Hengler, who spoke in opposition to the proposal, said everyone who wanted to speak in opposition should have been able to do so, especially since residents had just one public meeting to speak with project officials as they spent months working with the city on its proposal.

“The majority of the public simply asked that they be able to do more than one meeting with the community,” Hengler said, “when they spent eight months with our city staff and gave us one meeting … on the same night as a City Council meeting.”

NSA officials, including an attorney representing the school’s board of directors, members of the board and head of school Debbie Russell, expressed concerns with traffic counts from Matan Companies, representing property owners Jesse Williams and Murphy’s Mill Commons LLC, that would put an added 8,944 vehicles daily on Route 460.

They said it would have an adverse impact on the more than 900 students and staff members who come and go from NSA daily, especially new teen drivers. Also, they said potential improvements to Route 460 would siphon land from the school, which would impact its athletic facilities, including the football field, track and tennis courts. They also said without another entrance to the school off of Pitchkettle Road or Kings Fork Road, it would make it more difficult to safely access the campus.

“If that is left unaddressed in the future, this project will essentially paralyze our ability to safely enter and exit the campus,” said NSA board member Tom Cox.

City Director of Public Works Robert Lewis said he expected there would be little to no right-of-way acquisitions that would be needed for the road improvements. He said at this point, without any design work complete, it’s difficult to say whether any easements would be needed for construction, drainage or utilities.

“Generally, we believe the road can be built in the existing right-of-way,” Lewis said, “most assuredly with minimal impacts, but again, we’ve got to get to that next design stage.”

He also said adjusting the Routes 58 and 460 interchange would be needed, similar to what’s planned for Routes 58 and 10, turning it into a diverging diamond interchange, which he said would be safer for trucks than the existing loop onto Route 58 east going towards Bowers Hill.

However, Dave France, a project manager and vice president of Kimley-Horn and Associates who has drawn up conceptual plans for the project, said NSA’s issues are of their own doing and would be there with or without the project.

“Many, many issues that NSA brought up are existing issues that they have, that they have created on their own by fronting on 460,” France said. “And whether or not we come or not, there will be background growth, there will be traffic growth. They will have more and more problems as time goes on with their access on that road. It’s not us.”

France agreed with residents’ concerns about safety on Route 460, but said the proposal put forth offers a solution for it.

“What we are doing, and what we have done, and what we are proffering through cash payment to your community,” France said, “is the ability to advance the work that needs to be done to solve the issues of 460.”

He said, too, that there had been little recent talk of improving Route 460 until project officials came along.

“The 460 corridor, if we don’t show up, and if the commercial zoning that’s there today were never built, needs to be improved,” France said.

Carroll Collins, also a vice president at Kimley-Horn, said their proposal reduces the amount of traffic on Route 460 compared to commercial uses. He also said the area around Routes 58 and 460 where the project would be located would support the movement of freight in all directions.

Morris said that project officials have been in monthly contact with NSA, and that they called the school first when the project was submitted to the city for review late last year. He said they are still open to working with NSA on their issues.

“My commitment to NSA is to continue to work with them and resolve any issues,” Morris said.

School officials said they wanted a second stoplight for the other end of their campus, and Morris said they would be willing to work with state transportation officials to facilitate that.

Williams, who lives off a dirt road at Gen. Earley Drive and is one of the property owners, said he has farmed all his life and agrees on the need for Route 460 road improvements, something that many have known for at least 30 years. He said the state “threw hundreds of millions of dollars away” and never did any road work there.

He said he hasn’t seen increased truck traffic resulting from the Virginia Regional Commerce Park across Route 460 from the proposed project site, and suggested that any trucks coming to and from the project site would not go further down and even get to the school. He said he believes an industrial use for the site is best because there are already many residential properties being built in the city, and “not enough income-producing facilities.”

“People have valid concerns, and I appreciate your time, I appreciate your sitting here, I appreciate you listening to what everybody had to say,” Williams said. “One thing I do want to point out…if the will of the people is for residential, we’ve got no problem with that.”

He said letting go of the property has been a difficult choice.

“Selling this property is not an easy choice for the family,” Williams said. “I spent my whole life on this piece of property. A lot of it I cleared, I leveled, I graded, I drained. I did it myself. Some of it I bought in the (19)80s when the interest rates were 18%. I tried to work with Nansemond-Suffolk Academy. Half of that campus we made available to them. We charged them a price; it was a sweetheart deal, I can tell you. …

“And I feel like we’ve tried to have a good relationship with them over the years, and I’m just going to be frank with you gentlemen, when we asked them to put their list of demands on paper, they did.”

He said they asked for several adjacent properties to be donated to the school, and they asked for a road to connect the school to Pitchkettle Road. Williams said they would continue to work with the school, but asked that the project not be delayed.

He did say that more freight traffic from trucks and rail would come with increased traffic projected for the Port of Virginia.

Denise Murden, who lives near the proposed project in Kings Fork Farm, said people understand that the property will eventually be developed, but wants something more compatible with the surrounding area. She questioned what kind of jobs the project would actually bring. Other speakers expressed worry about increased truck traffic on Pitchkettle Road, even if signage were put in to discourage it.

“The staff report provides no evidence that it is in the best interest of the entire community,” Murden said.

Hicks, after her first motion died for lack of a second, said she didn’t want to delay the vote.

“Tabling this is just going to make this same discussion go on in 30 days, or in 90 days, or in whatever number of days,” Hicks said. “And the discussion is going to be the same, and the issues aren’t going to be any closer to be resolved.”