Rezoning approved for 170 homes off White Marsh Road

Published 4:53 pm Tuesday, August 23, 2022

About 35 acres on two properties off of White Marsh Road, about a mile south of East Washington Street, will be rezoned to allow for 170 homes.

City Council unanimously approved the rezoning of the properties at 1355 White Marsh Road from agricultural and rural residential to residential urban zoning at its Aug. 17 meeting. The Planning Commission also had unanimously recommended approving the rezoning last month.

Though the developer had considered building a combination of 30 single-family homes and 140 townhomes, according to a narrative of proposed uses submitted with the rezoning application, it did not proffer that.

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“We feel that our development is going to be a good development for that side of town,” said attorney Grier Ferguson, representing the applicant for the rezoning, Bob Arnette and South Suffolk Development Group LLC. “Some rooftops are needed on that side of town. If you go look at the White Marsh Shopping Center, I think more good housing on that side would bring a place like White Marsh Shopping Center back, so it could be a viable center once again. We need some rooftops to get the commercial people interested on that side of town again.”

However, Robin Whitley of Mountainside Avenue said she is concerned that the area is a food desert, and that while she understands what Ferguson said about needing more people to generate more commercial development, including a grocery store, having a Food Lion several miles away and a dollar store is not adequate for residents in that area.

“I think because there hasn’t been anything built in that shopping center for a long time due to crime and other reasons,” Whitley said. “We do have a Food Lion that is some miles away and a Family Dollar General, but that is not sufficient for the people of that community. … We really need to look at bringing grocery stores, something viable to the area, before we start looking at bringing more rooftops.

Whitley also expressed concerns about the affordability of the housing that is to come with the rezoning in a poorer, predominantly African-American area, and gentrification she fears could happen by pushing out those residents. She also had concerns about whether schools in the area, including John F. Kennedy Middle and Booker T. Washington Elementary schools, could absorb additional students, especially as John F. Kennedy is slated to be rebuilt.

Ferguson reiterated his point that more rooftops are needed in order to attract a grocery store and commercial development, and said the proposed development would increase the likelihood of a grocery store coming to that part of the city.

“Unfortunately, commercial enterprise goes to the people,” Ferguson said. “It doesn’t go to deserts, and that’s why we need more people on that side of town, good people who will go shopping and use the new supermarkets that hopefully will come. But nothing’s going to come unless there’s change. Only change can create more commercial development.”

He said the planning staff addressed the school issues, and that there would be no further pressures on schools.

The properties had once been envisioned to be developed as a future Phase 3 of the Stratford Terrace subdivision to the north. Phase 2 of Stratford Terrace was platted in 1971 and draft plans for Phase 3 were submitted in 2008, but none were finalized or approved.

The staff report for the rezoning noted property to the south that had been envisioned to be developed as the White Marsh Estates subdivision with 319 single-family homes, but no development has taken place there since a 2015 rezoning.

The approved rezoning of the White Marsh Road properties will allow the developer to have a gross density of 4.9 dwelling units per acre, rather than the current allowed density of one unit per acre. Attorney Grier Ferguson, representing the developer, noted during council’s public hearing that it would make for a smooth transition from the Stratford Terrace area.

Besides proffering no more than 170 units, the developer has proffered traffic improvements, including a westbound left-turn lane at the East Washington Street and White Marsh Road intersection, and extending the existing westbound left-turn lane at the East Washington Street and Portsmouth Boulevard intersection.

In a letter from the South Suffolk and North Suffolk Congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses, which has a location at 1351 White Marsh Road, it said it did not oppose the rezoning and “the current proposed plans do not appear to pose a problem for us,” but it would have to assess any future development plans when they are presented.