City Council notebook: Residents rally against Port 460

Published 6:49 pm Friday, September 9, 2022

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Mayor Mike Duman teased in his most recent Facebook Live that City Council’s meeting agenda Wednesday would largely be an uneventful one.

And it was.

There were no public hearings and few things for members to vote on, and though there were a number of briefings during both the work session and regular meeting, those went expeditiously.

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But residents had much to say during the non-agenda public comment period, especially about the proposed rezoning for the Port 460 Logistics Center, which would bring 10 warehouses and a smattering of retail to a 540-acre area off of U.S. Routes 460 and 58, and Pitchkettle, Kings Fork and Murphys Mill roads.

More than 20 people greeted council members as they arrived to their Sept. 7 meeting, and the same number spoke about the project during the public comment period, though three expressed support for it.

The opponents to the rezoning held the rally outside City Hall in between council’s work session and regular meeting, continuing to hammer home arguments that the project would increase traffic, clog roads and be harmful to the environment, while not providing the projected jobs and economic benefits to the city.

Those opponents, 17 total, also spoke out during the non-agenda public comment period of council’s meeting. There were three people supporting the project who also spoke, including Doug Smith, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Alliance and Barbara Nelson, vice president of development and transportation policy for the Port of Virginia.

Later in the week, Gov. Glenn Youngkin came out publicly in support of the project.

A vote on the rezoning is scheduled for council’s Sept. 21 meeting, having been tabled for 30 days at its second August meeting.

Key votes from the council meeting:

  • Consent agenda — En bloc, council approved accepting and appropriating a $1,100 Towne Bank community grant for the Sheriff’s Department community outreach program to buy backpacks. It also accepted $404,424 from the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services for the Suffolk Victim/Witness Assistance Program and accepted and appropriated $27,142 from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Highway Safety Grant Program for the Suffolk Police Department. Another adopted ordinance aligned city code with the state’s relating to military leave. Two other ordinances cleaned up clerical errors in the ordinance numbers that had been given when council adopted conditional use permits related to the shooting range and school on Hosier Road.

The money from the Department of Criminal Justice Services requires a $68,087 local match, which is already provided for in the current consolidated grants fund budget.

The DMV money will support overtime and training for alcohol traffic enforcement and overtime and equipment for speeding enforcement for the city’s police department. The money increased planned income and expenses by $27,142 and requires $13,571 worth of in-kind support from the department’s operating budget for fuel and maintenance.

  • Freeman Mill Road bridge replacement public hearing — Council voted (unanimously) to schedule a public hearing for Sept. 21 to allow comment on an ordinance allowing the city to acquire property for the Freeman Mill Road bridge replacement project, which would replace the current 31-foot long and 22-foot wide span with one that would be 42 feet long and made of single pre-stressed concrete voided slab with concrete abutments.

The key briefings:

  • Public safety update — Council heard from Suffolk Police Maj. James Buie about active shooter training. He noted that the department has trained various groups and shared its principles of “avoid, deny and defend.”
  • U.S. 58 construction — Public Works Director Robert Lewis updated council on the ongoing construction along U.S. 58 from the Suffolk Bypass to the Virginia Port Logistics Park, saying the project is on pace to be completed by December 2024 and cost about $83.8 million.
  • Clean Communities Commission — Commissioners from the Clean Communities Commission briefed the council on its activities and programs. They touted the increases in volunteers, volunteer hours, bags of trash collected, tires and total trash picked up in fiscal year 2022, as compared to the previous year. They picked up 46,246 pounds of trash as 1,448 volunteers (up 193%) put in 3,241.5 volunteer hours (up 207%), collected 1,746 bags of trash (up 195%) and 118 tires (up 236%), all up significantly from the previous year.
  • Mosquito control program — Public Works Director Robert Lewis shared with council information about its mosquito control program for the city, specifically about the recently detected disease. He noted that the number of mosquitos from March through August was at 68,000, the lowest since the city began tracking it in 2011. He said it also found two mosquito pools that tested positive for West Nile Virus.