Letter – A plea to preserve ‘community’ by denying rezoning request

Published 5:56 pm Tuesday, August 16, 2022

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To the Editor:

For the past month, a single topic has dominated conversation in and around the sleepy town of Suffolk. Proposed rezoning plans, that would see large swathes of farmland around U.S. 58 near downtown Suffolk converted to warehouses, have been met with protest from Suffolk residents.

Proponents of the rezoning scheme argue that the new warehouses will provide jobs for local residents as well as a source of tax revenue for the city. All of that is well and good, and I will leave it to persons with the relevant experience (that I myself lack) to contest those details. However, even if the rezoning is inevitable, at the very least I think it proper for the opponents of the plan to have their word.

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I am not here to argue over economics or logistics. My concerns — as well as the concerns of most other citizens I’ve had the opportunity to discuss the plans with — are existential in nature. The city council must realize that other opportunities for economic growth and jobs will arise in the future. If the proposed rezoning goes through, the scenic countryside and idyllic farmland from Murphy’s Mill to U.S. 58 will be consigned to history — with absolutely no possibility of their recovery.

As somebody who has spent all 20 of my years in Suffolk, I am forced to ask what this rezoning will do to our city and our home.

Suffolk is first a community. Rarely have I encountered such an atmosphere elsewhere — a small, lazy country town where everybody seems to know everybody. But a community is not just a collection of people, rather, a community is bound together by something that those people share in common.

In the case of Suffolk, our community is bound together by the land we live on, and our parents lived on, and our grandparents lived on. My mother tells stories of running cross-country races when she was in high school behind the campus of Nansemond-Suffolk Academy, running past the waving rows of crops in the fields next to her — the same fields I ran past in my own cross-country races 30 years later, and the same fields that will be reduced to parking lots and warehouses should this rezoning be approved.

To quote the great English philosopher, Edmund Burke: “Society is a partnership between the dead, the living, and the unborn.” In Suffolk, the bond that makes that partnership a reality — the thread that connects our generations — is this little patch of the earth that we inhabit. Suffolk itself is that bond.

In philosophy, there’s a famous thought experiment drawn from Greek mythology called “The Ship of Theseus.” For those readers unfamiliar with the concept, the argument runs thus: Suppose you take a wooden ship, and year after year replace each plank of the ship with a new plank of wood. At what point does the ship cease to be the same ship you set out with in the beginning? I would like to finish this essay by asking the City Council to vote on Wednesday with a similar thought in mind.

How much of Suffolk, Virginia can you plaster over with asphalt parking lots and industrial warehouses before it ceases to be Suffolk?

Jacob J. Conrod