Letter – Four reasons to turn down rezoning for Port 460 project

Published 7:36 pm Friday, August 12, 2022

To the Editor:

Following the public hearing before the Planning Commission on July 19, I wrote to you, expressing several concerns about the proposed Port 460 project. Since that time I have attended the second community outreach by Matan Companies on Aug. 4, and have reviewed portions of the video of the council meetings on this topic over the past few weeks. The lack of meaningful response to the concerns I had raised, as well as some additional concerns which have arisen, prompts me to express serious reservations about these issues.

1. An inappropriate location

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At the Planning Commission meeting speakers from the community raised questions about why the development of this warehouse project had to be located adjacent to several residential areas, instead of in an area of similar business types. The questions were brushed aside with the statement that the proposed location was the only site in Suffolk that had 500-plus acres available. The clear implication was that this size of property was essential to the project.

However, at the second community outreach meeting the Matan representatives admitted that each of the proposed 10 warehouse sites (which they refer to as “lots”) would be sold individually to new owners. The only information given about the “unavailability” of alternate properties for the project was to say the alternates did not meet the criteria of Matan for the project. The specific criteria was not provided. However, it appears very clear that, since the lots are to be sold individually, that it would be no impediment at all to have relocated to two or more properties located near one another, rather than requiring a specific, single, property for the entire project. In fact, no reason, other than the preferences of the developer, was given for the property not being located elsewhere.

Once the possibility of relocating the site to multiple properties is considered, another benefit becomes apparent. As discussed below under traffic hazards, relocating the site elsewhere will allow for reduced traffic and congestion, and corresponding enhancement of safety, without reducing the size of the overall project.

2. Traffic hazards

At the second community outreach meeting, there was a presentation of the remediation being done at the interchange between Pruden Boulevard/U.S. 460 and U.S. 58. Much of the discussion related to the traffic signal at the U.S. 58 West offramp to Pruden Boulevard/U.S. 460. One speaker, a truck driver, also raised concerns about being able to get from that off ramp to the proposed left turn lane into the Port 460 location.

Many speakers expressed concerns about traffic backing up onto U.S. 58 because of the traffic signal. While the Matan representatives brushed aside such concerns, the Matan traffic engineer did not. He admitted that the improvements were only a stopgap measure, and that further remediation would be needed.

In my view, the truck driver who spoke made perhaps the most important point. A truck exiting U.S. 58 at that point will have to stop at Pruden Boulevard/U.S. 460, even though there is a right turn lane, because they will need to be sure that all lanes of northwest bound traffic are clear, in order to cross all lanes of Pruden Boulevard/U.S. 460 to reach the left turn lane. That stopping will back up more vehicles, many, or even most, of which will be trucks, onto U.S. 58 West. This is exactly the problem experienced at the U.S. 58/Godwin Boulevard interchange. As these trucks hurry to cross the multiple lanes of traffic, the risk of accidents with other trucks, or with passenger vehicles, is very troubling.

The developer’s estimate is that there will be at least 3,000 trucks per day traveling this route. Simple arithmetic indicates that is more than two trucks per minute, 24 hours per day. It is painfully obvious that this number of trucks can not help but back up. With that number of trucks passing through this interchange, there Also will be a backup in the left turn lane into the Port 460 development on Pruden Boulevard. The developer says the distance between the interchange and the turn point is approximately 1,700 feet.

Allowing for truck and trailer lengths of 70 feet, plus several feet for spacing, that distance allows for, at most, 24 trucks. It will likely be less. Even that number will accumulate in little over 10 minutes. What will the duration of the left turn signal be for these trucks? It will need to be several minutes long to clear that backlog in a reasonable time. Oncoming traffic will surely become frustrated and that will cause tempers to rise, and create more dangerous situations.

However, since it doesn’t appear that it really is necessary for the project to be located at this dangerous interchange, the idea of an alternate site, created by using multiple other locations becomes especially attractive. Not only will it allow the developers to build the full project desired, but it has the double benefits of being located near other similar uses, and of reducing the amount of traffic added to a single location, along with its corresponding dangers to the public.

In addition, as has been pointed out by Mike Host in his correspondence, U.S. 460 is the single most dangerous road in Virginia, with U.S. 58 a very close second. A disproportionate number of the accidents and fatalities involve trucks. Adding thousands of daily truck trips to these roads can only increase the accidents and fatalities significantly.

other hazard involves Kings Fork Road. When this was brought up at the second community outreach meeting, the Matan representatives hemmed and hawed, but had no answer to concerns over safety on Kings Fork Road. In fact it is a more dangerous road, despite that the affected part of it is very short. It is a narrow road, with deep ditches and no shoulders. It also has a very severe “S” turn between Pitchkettle Road and Pruden Boulevard/U.S. 460. It is inconceivable that trucks, because of their length, and the narrow roadway, will not cross over the centerline in that “S” curve, endangering every vehicle on Kings Fork Road.

3. Altering the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning

This project will not comply with either the 2035 Comprehensive Plan or the Suffolk zoning ordinances for the subject property. The proposal is to change the zoning from agricultural to heavy industrial, with conditions. Many of us, my wife and I included, chose our home in Pitchkettle Point because of its charming residential quality, and the fact that the nearby properties were similar in character, with the exception of nearby agricultural land, which we thought added to the charm. We anticipated eventual residential development of the agricultural land, consistent with the surrounding properties. We did not anticipate that we had moved into a location, which, some 10 years later, would become heavy industrial-zoned warehouses.

The comprehensive plans are prepared with significant community input. It is something of an agreement between the city and its populace as to the way growth will proceed in coming years. Now, 13 years before the 2035 comprehensive plan’s target date, a change is proposed that amounts to a breach of faith by the city with the community it is supposed to serve. Despite the community input in the preparation of the comprehensive plan, very little public input was obtained to alter it. In fact, the primary public input has been objections raised long after the proposal had been finalized by the developer and staff.

There is nothing inherently wrong with changing a comprehensive plan, just as there is nothing inherently wrong with changing zoning. However, zoning is a careful design, ordinarily used to keep incompatible uses from being placed next to each other. Typically it puts like uses of property in areas near one another. Here it is being proposed to be altered to attain exactly the opposite result.

The proposal here is to alter the comprehensive plan to deviate from the plan prepared with significant public input, to change it without significant public input. The proposal is to change the zoning of the property so that incompatible properties are separated, to a situation where severely incompatible properties are absurdly close to each other.
4. Effect on residential property values

There is no doubt that this will significantly diminish the property values of the nearby 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.” Our neighborhood has only one entry/exit, and that is via Pitchkettle Road. We have no alternative. At the community meeting, the Matan representatives described Pitchkettle Road as not suitable for trucks, “in fact, it isn’t much of a road, at all.” While the Matan representatives plan to widen Pitchkettle Road between the project and Kings Fork Road, the only plan to address the remaining portions of Pitchkettle Road is to put up signs indicating “No Trucks.” With all due respect, such signs have been on Pitchkettle

Road for years, and they do not stop trucks from using it. Consequently we can look forward to trucks using Pitchkettle Road to avoid traffic on Pruden Boulevard/U.S. 460, causing dangerous travel on Pitchkettle Road, and heavy traffic (including the increased employees from the development) racing past the entrance to our neighborhood. This is exactly the type of traffic that is “a surefire way to hurt property values and reduce buyer interest” in the properties along Pitchkettle Road.

Conclusion

As you can see from the above, and as I stated in my previous correspondence, I am not opposed to the owner of the property selling his land, or to the developer building this project in Suffolk. My objections are to the decision to build it at the currently planned location, where it will cause danger to all on the roads, where it will cause loss of property values, and where all this is done with inadequate public interaction and contrary to the comprehensive plan.
I respectfully request that you vote against the proposed zoning changes and against this development being built as currently proposed.

Scott Thomas
Suffolk