Letter – No transparency on Port 460 project
Published 7:17 pm Friday, July 29, 2022
To the editor,
My wife and I reside in Pitchkettle Point subdivision, located near the proposed rezoning area. We also attended the Planning Commission meeting on July 19 and were among the many people who sought to speak out on this issue, but were not permitted to speak.
Like my neighbors in Pitchkettle Point, as well as those in the Pitchkettle Farm neighborhood and others, when we relocated to Suffolk nearly 10 years ago, what attracted us to this part of Suffolk was the lovely and quiet neighborhood, with good access to downtown and to the Route 58 Bypass. We were aware of the neighboring farmland, which is now the subject of rezoning, but understood from the Suffolk 2035 Comprehensive Plan that this area was a Suburban Use District. Consequently, we expected that one day this property would be sold and used for residential purposes, but we never would have dreamed it would be considered for heavy industrial use. Had we known that, we would have looked elsewhere for a home.
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While we were not familiar with the definition of a Suburban Use District, from the name we would certainly not have expected it to include several million square feet of warehouses, thousands of daily truck arrivals and departures, and many thousands of daily employee trips. What’s more, all this is said to be accomplished with only minor improvement of a short stretch of Pruden Boulevard (Route 460) and an even shorter stretch of Pitchkettle Road.
While it is expected that most of the traffic will use the Pruden Boulevard route, the maps provided by the developer show that there will be multiple entrances on Pitchkettle Road. It is inconceivable that some trucks, and most employees, will not use Pitchkettle Road to avoid the truck traffic on Pruden Boulevard. But Pitchkettle Road is a narrow, two-lane, rural road, barely adequate for the traffic it now receives. I have no idea how many vehicles per hour Pitchkettle Road now handles, but it has been increasing, and this development will undoubtedly multiply it several times over.
We have sincere and serious objections to this project being placed in this location, and to the lack of public input in the city’s process of approval.
- Traffic safety: The enormous increase in traffic from thousands of employee trips and thousands more tractor-trailer trips per day on both Pruden Boulevard (460) and Pitchkettle Road will result in fatalities — as our neighbor Mike Host pointed out in his letter to the Suffolk News-Herald (“Public gets little input on risky Port 460 project”) on July 24: “In 2005, VDOT reported that fatalities on Route 460 were 220% higher than on similar Virginia highways, and that tractor-trailers were involved in 50% of those fatalities. Since that time, the situation has only gotten worse. The Port 460 project will make it worse yet.”
The widening of these roads over only a small portion of their length will make it worse, not better, as the vehicles will then have to squeeze down from multiple lanes to only one lane. The developer has said that trucks will not travel on the two lane portion of Pitchkettle Road, because signage will prohibit this. With respect, there were signs prohibiting trucks there in recent years. There were still trucks on Pitchkettle Road. Signs are not the answer.
- Lack of traffic data: At the July 19 Planning Commission meeting there was discussion of the staff report, and the idea that the Planning Department’s traffic studies did not have a problem with this project. No data, whatsoever, was provided on that point. One of our neighbors obtained a copy of the staff report, and discovered that no data was included in the report. There was only an indication of no objection to the approval. When he asked for a copy of the traffic report he was told that, in order to obtain a copy, he would have to file a Freedom of Information Act request. That is an astounding situation! What is the city hiding? Does the report actually show big problems? Does the report show, as is likely, a gigantic increase in traffic on all area roads? Or was any traffic study done, at all?
- Effect on residential property values: Residents intuitively understand that having an industrial park or other commercial development adjacent to their homes will diminish the value of their homes. As one study puts it, “A surefire way to hurt property values and reduce buyer interest in neighborhoods is to make them hard to access due to constant traffic.”
Traffic information has not been made available to the public, but we have personally observed an increase in both automobile and tractor-trailer traffic on Pitchkettle Road in the past year. Adding thousands of employee cars and many thousands of trucks to the area will certainly create the kind of traffic that will harm our property values. This is the city taking the value of our properties without due process of law.
- Changing the Comprehensive Plan without meaningful public input: The 2035 Comprehensive Plan categorized this area as Suburban. Any reasonable understanding of that term would exclude heavy industrial use. Yet, there has been little information given to the public, and very little opportunity to provide feedback.
At the July 19 Planning Commission meeting a large number of people, including my wife and I, indicated a desire to speak, but were not able to do so. The developer repeatedly mentioned that they had “engaged with the community,” but it was clear that they meant that they had spoken with Planning Department staff. With respect, the Planning Department staff is not the same as the public, and especially the residents of properties in the area impacted by this project.
At the July 20 City Council meeting Councilman Tim Johnson pointed out the lack of opportunity for public input. In response Mayor Mike Duman indicated that required steps had been taken. The required steps may have been taken, but when the proposed change isn’t merely a zoning change, by itself, but is also contrary to the 2035 Comprehensive Plan, checking those boxes is simply not enough.
Presumably the 2035 Comprehensive Plan was developed with input from the public. Yet, now it is to be disregarded, some 12 years before its consummation, without seeking similar input. That is entirely inadequate and smacks of governing by stealth. Now the City of Suffolk wants public input on a 2045 Comprehensive Plan. Why? Why should anyone participate in a plan that is so readily ignored?
This development is tantamount to dishonesty by the City of Suffolk in its Comprehensive Plan, by seducing people into buying in a Suburban area, then turning it into a warehouse or industrial area with little warning. The result will be significantly lower home values for all nearby residents, caused by vastly increased heavy truck traffic and enormously increased car traffic, increased noise and diminished safety for all, as the volume of traffic increases.
We are not opposed to growth, nor are we opposed to a development such as this one. We are opposed to having this type of development adjacent to a residential neighborhood, contrary to the implied promise the city has made in its comprehensive plans.
I respectfully request that the City Council reject this proposed use.