Letter – We Have A Plan, Let’s Follow It

Published 8:12 pm Friday, August 19, 2022

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To the Editor:

I attended the public hearing on the Port 460 Project Wednesday. Because I didn’t arrive early enough, I was one of the hundred or so people who were only able to watch the hearing on the screens in the foyer, and, due to insufficient time being allowed for public comment, I was not permitted to council.

I have written to the council twice previously on this matter, on July 19 and again on Aug. 7. My intent last evening was not to revisit the points made there, but to bring up a new matter. However, I do want to summarize my previous correspondence for context. Those emails dealt with four topics: (1) the inappropriate location of the planned project based only on the preferences of the developer; (2) the severe traffic hazards that will result on all three affected roads (Pruden/460, Pitchkettle Road, and Kings Fork); (3) the alteration of the zoning to be inconsistent with the 2035 Comprehensive Plan without adequate public input; and (4) the inevitable diminution of property values this will cause for homeowners in the areas surrounding the project.

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In addition to last night’s meeting, I also attended Matan’s public outreach meeting on Aug. 4. I have yet to hear any of these issues addressed in a meaningful way. The location question was answered with “other sites don’t meet our criteria.” Perhaps so, but without disclosing the criteria, who can know if there aren’t other possibilities. There certainly appear to be several and no other reason is given not to consider them. A comment was made at the hearing, if this project is turned down, it will “just go down the road,” presumably to another town. There is no evidence of that. In fact, there appear to be other locations within Suffolk that could support this project.

Traffic issues, caused specifically by the proposed location, are brushed off with “trucks are coming anyway.” That is likely, but misses the point. This location significantly adds to the traffic hazards. That is not “coming anyway.” Yet, the real issues have been ignored.

Questions about the zoning changes being in opposition to the 2035 Comprehensive Plan are greeted with “it’s only a plan; we can change it.” More on that follows.

Loss of value of residential properties has not been mentioned in any setting. It is apparently viewed as a non-issue. I can assure you that is not the case for the nearby residents.

A new matter for your consideration

When my Aug. 7 correspondence appeared in the Suffolk News-Herald, on Aug. 12 (online), the paper’s Editorial Board also ran an Editorial (Raise the bar economically, Aug. 12, 2022), which, I was delighted to see, agrees with me on this issue. While pointing out just how controversial the Port 460 Project is in this community, it acknowledges the progress made in attracting businesses to Suffolk, and urges the council to consider the input of the people of Suffolk, and to set their standards higher.

The Editorial, in a sense, is saying that the City of Suffolk, in consultation with its citizens (who are after all the city, as Tim Johnson mentioned last evening), need to formulate a plan for the way Suffolk wants to see itself in the future, and urges that Suffolk’s future move on, from simply being, as one wag put it, “the warehouse capital of America.” What next? Should we give up the Peanut Festival in favor of a Warehouse Festival?

I agree with the Editorial, that Suffolk needs (a) to set its sights higher, and (b) with public input, determine what it sees as its future. However, I can’t help but observe that such a plan for the future has already been prepared in the 2035 Comprehensive Plan! That was done with significant public input, yet, with nowhere near the same public input, it is now proposed to adopt a zoning change that would radically alter that 2035 Comprehensive Plan more than 13 years before its target date! To that objection, the Council has said, “it’s only a plan; we can change it.”

This flippant response to a serious objection runs parallel to earlier statements by the council to the effect that traffic concerns are not an important consideration because “we did all that was required.” Both of these responses show little or no consideration of the views of the people of Suffolk, and the safety of its citizens.

If the Comprehensive Plan is prepared with significant public input, then it should be considered to be the will of the people of Suffolk, and the character of the areas defined in it should not be changed without similar public input to the original plan.

The answers that “we did all that was required” and “it’s only a plan, we can change it” amount to saying, “If we check all the boxes we can do as we please. We don’t need to worry about what the people want (or how it impacts them).”

With all due respect, these attitudes are unworthy of the positions of the council as the leaders of our community.

There are two roads set before the council. You can take the “low road” and bury your head in the sand, ignoring the views of the public, or you can take the “high road” and listen to the people that make up this city.

As I have said previously, I do not oppose growth. I do not oppose Mr. Williams selling his property. I do not oppose the warehouses being built in Suffolk. I oppose them being built in this location in light of the traffic and safety concerns, the zoning changes that contradict the Comprehensive Plan, and the inevitable negative impact on residential properties.

I urge the council to “take the high road” and vote against this project being in this location.

Scott Thomas