Citizens speak out to preserve rural and agricultural areas

Published 8:15 pm Thursday, November 3, 2022

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Citizens and members of Citizens Against Rezoning Efforts for Suffolk (CARE4Suffolk) came to City Council Wednesday night to oppose rezoning efforts at the intersection of Lake Kilby and Lake Cahoon.

Ann and Bryan Harris both spoke to council members during their public comment period at the Nov. 2 meeting about the rezoning issues in their area.

“This area is predominantly zoned as a rural estate district and it should stay that way. Keeping this property rural estate will ensure that there is a predictable and orderly level of growth that blends with this area,” Ann Harris said. “We’ll also require much less from the city than a development of over 200 houses.”

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Harris also shared how agricultural living is the main reason why she and her husband called Suffolk their home.

“I can tell you that wanting an acre or more of land is not a thing of the past. My husband and I moved to Suffolk 15 years ago to the lakeside neighborhood,” she said. “We liked the small downtown and thought it was amazing that the rural areas were so close, and present in the atmosphere of the city. The longer we lived here, the more inspired we became to find some land of our own, and eventually settled down here.”

Likewise, Harris told council that keeping their area rural is more beneficial in the long run.

“Keeping Lake Kilby and Lake Cahoon road area as a rural estate allows for growth, but in a more controlled and less destructive way,” she said. “Please keep this in mind when this matter comes before you.”

Ann’s husband, Bryan Harris, also took the time to speak on the importance of preserving the agricultural history of the city.

“Consider this, farming and ranching are always one generation away from disappearing. If the knowledge and the land don’t carry forward, it’s forever lost,” Brian Harris said.

“I’d like for you to consider the actual words that we and you use to address this topic. In conversion and guiding documents, we and the city council see the words ‘urban, suburban and rural’ and that’s the order we always see them in. Notice how we put ‘rural’ last? Even on the list of focus groups for the 2025 comprehensive plan, the agricultural advisory committee, it’s listed last.”

Brian Harris further addressed the rural aspects of Suffolk being the core of the city.

“What if we all made a deliberate effort to change the way that we talk and we think about our community,” he said. “The rural portions of Suffolk are the literal source of our heritage and if preserving our agricultural heritage is a priority, we should treat it as such, and put it in front and make an immediate shift in this message,” he said.

Brian Harris said it doesn’t require a motion or a hearing. “Simply start putting ‘rural’ first in the things that you say,” he said. “We’re all creatures of habit, and the things that we say often become the things that we do.”

Councilmembers thanked them both for their words and for coming out to expressing their views.

“It’s about literally hundreds of small farmers in our city… there’s good people all over our city in Chuckatuck, in north Suffolk, in my borough, that just want to be recognized that they picked Suffolk for the lifestyle,” Councilman Timothy Johnson said. “We’re hearing the voices of the city, people want to be heard and want us to recognize what they’re about and I think that we’re all here sitting, waiting, and listening.”

Councilman LeOtis Williams said they are listening. “

“We’re hearing what you’re saying,” he said.

“I’d like to start out as well thanking the speakers for coming out tonight and speaking,” Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett said. “Let your voice be heard.”

Mayor Michael Duman said coming based on their comments and particularly some comments from Councilman Johnson in the past, “we need to possibly revisit  some of our processes right now, in regards to notices and timeframes and information provided,” he said.

The mayor went on to say there is no desire to not provide transparency.

“We just have to ensure that we have the means and the methods and we actually do that,” Duman said. “It has been discussed, and will be a topic of discussion. Probably after the first of the year, we’ll have a retreat. These are some of the things that we need to visit, make sure that there’s enough time for people to respond. Not only the citizens, but also folks in the planning commission and even ourselves in the city council.”