Council set to vote on rezoning for Port 460

Published 6:13 pm Tuesday, September 20, 2022

The proposed rezoning of 540 acres of property along U.S. 460 for the building of 4.7 million square feet of warehouses and some retail has generated volumes of discussion,  feedback, and at times vitriol as opponents gathered momentum in their efforts to thwart the project. It’s likely one of the biggest, if not biggest, project council members have voted on in recent memory.

Wednesday, after tabling the matter for 30 days, City Council is prepared to vote on the proposed rezoning the property from general commercial and agricultural to heavy industrial zoning to allow for the building of 10 warehouses and retail at the front of the property, which also abuts U.S. 58 and Pitchkettle, Kings Fork and Murphys Mill roads.

Supporters of the project, which publicly have included the Port of Virginia along with the developers, the Matan Companies, and those working with or for them, primarily, cite the economic benefits to the city, state and region while fostering efforts to make much-needed road improvements.

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Project opponents, who plan to hold a second rally outside City Hall at 5 p.m. Wednesday ahead of council’s regular meeting, have ticked off a litany of concerns, many related to traffic congestion and increased truck and other traffic that would come as a result of the development, though opponents have also cited concerns about the environment, preserving the city’s way of life and that there are other locations —- in and out of the city — that are better suited for such a project than property that is primarily used for agricultural purposes.

Mayor Mike Duman, who said when council voted to table the rezoning request at its last meeting that he needed to have questions answered before he could vote one way or the other about it, said some of those questions had been answered, but others remained.

He said in a Friday Facebook Live that if it were up to him, he’d be inclined to table the matter again, but he didn’t believe others on council and those for and against the project had the appetite to do that.

Councilman Tim Johnson has said he does not support the proposal, but most council members have not indicated publicly how they plan to vote.

Some publicly have called for Councilman Donald Goldberg to recuse himself from voting on the project, citing what they believe to be a conflict of interest due to the company he works for, Harvey Lindsay Commercial Real Estate, representing adjacent property owners who opponents believe could stand to benefit from the rezoning approval.

However, Goldberg has publicly denied that he has any conflicts of interest, and cited an opinion he received from City Attorney William Hutchings and an opinion he received from the state’s Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council in disavowing any conflicts.

Hutchings said he was not permitted to discuss “whether our client asked for advice, what they asked, or what advice was given” to Goldberg, citing the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct.

Matan also submitted a joint permit application for federal and state environmental permits in late June, and the Army Corps of Engineers published a public notice in early August announcing its Norfolk District commander had received it. The application has also been filed with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, the state Department of Environmental Quality and the Local Wetlands Boards.

The city’s planning office recommended approval of the rezoning request, and the Planning Commission, in a 5-3 vote, also recommended such approval.

Project organizers, who said the process has been transparent, contrary to what opponents have said, have held a pair of public meetings to discuss the project, most recently in August, and later that month, council held a public hearing that filled the chamber and a portion of the area outside the room with opponents.

Interim director of Planning and Community Development Kevin Wyne has noted that 130 acres of the property is already zoned for general commercial use, and noted that the warehouses for the proposed industrial part “were conceptualized but not proffered” and would be built in phases.

Matan Companies submitted a revised proffer statement last month to exclude certain high-intensity uses of the property that would otherwise be permitted in heavy industrial zoning, and make traffic improvements outlined in the approved traffic impact assessment.

It has also proffered $4.5 million toward 30% engineering plans for U.S. 460 between the U.S. 58 Bypass and Providence Road and Lake Prince Drive, including $400,000 for survey work along the corridor, and $2.1 million for interchange improvement at the U.S. Routes 460 and 58 Bypass. It also has proffered an enhanced buffer on property adjoining Nansemond-Suffolk Academy and along the Murphys Mill Road right-of-way, including a 75-foot buffer, six-foot high landscape screening, fencing and berming along the school boundary and along the front of Murphys Mill Road.