2045 COMP Plan marks final council retreat discussion

Published 5:17 pm Friday, April 21, 2023

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— Last of three parts —

City Council members and officials spent the final day of their annual retreat focusing on the update to Suffolk’s 2045 Comprehensive Plan.

The April 6-7 retreat allowed for more in-depth discussions among council members on issues facing the city.

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In a recent interview, Mayor Michael D. Duman said one of the council’s key tasks is to determine where they would like to see growth, along with what types and how to deal with it. Some of the issues that were discussed were the same ones they heard in the eight community meetings held across the city. 

“One of the challenges is that we have a lot of folks who want to move to Suffolk,” Duman said. “We talked a lot about what the citizens’ concerns were, and what we would do to address those. We talked about demographics, and we talked about the future — where we were going as far as the comp plan was concerned – with the future development of the comp plan.

Discussions on the comprehensive plan included pipeline developments, rezoning to encourage “particular type of growth” and assisting villages such as Holland and Whaleyville feasibility. On the discussions of schools, Duman emphasized that they have capacity for more than 15,000 students, with enrollment now at more than 14,000. 

“We talked about schools, the fact that city wide, we do not have a capacity problem,” Duman said. “Hopefully the schools will take a serious look at some consolidation and some redistricting, as was recommended in the facility study that was brought up also.”

The meetings on the planning document drew a lot of comments on smart growth, to which Duman explained means more than “figuring out what you want your growth” and includes preserving characteristics of neighborhoods, freedom to choose how to maneuver through the city, having different types of communities for every age, and wisely investing in taxpayer money.

“I think smart growth is — directly relating to the comprehensive plan — as to what we want to see and where and how,” the mayor said. “Suffolk is a very unique city, in my opinion. We are, kind of whether you like it or not, we’re four cities within a city. We have downtown, we’ve got northern Suffolk, we got the rural areas and got everybody else.”

Duman emphasized the diversity of lifestyle options of Suffolk — from the rural farm acres, to the downtown area, to the modern upscale environment of Harbour View, and the various neighborhoods available for citizens. Likewise, he noted the challenge of managing the aspects.

“The great thing about Suffolk is we have 430 square miles. The hard thing about Suffolk is that we have 430 square miles. So we can offer any type of lifestyle to any individual who wants to move to our city,” he expressed. “That’s a great thing, but it’s hard to manage because what’s good for one part of the city may not be a concern of another part of the city or maybe be counter to the way those individuals want to live their lives. Because of that, it is very challenging to manage resources and, in my opinion, to be able to really address everyone’s concerns at the same time because it’s so diverse.”

Duman also discussed input from the community sessions and the particular comments on roads, traffic, infrastructure and the concerns over growth.

“We have had a lot of growth in the last couple two or three years. There’s no question about it,” he said. “I think it will slow down some, because of the economy. That was a big consideration, But the comp plan has been development, trends and roads and what folks would like to have or not like to have in particular areas.”

Duman agreed with the citizens who want to have more services and more amenities in Suffolk.

“I would love to have all of it, but unlike the federal government, we can’t print money,” he said. “We have to have a balanced budget. So the question becomes, ‘Where does the money come from?’”

He believes the way to increase revenue, without it being on the backs of the taxpayers, is through growth.

“The majority of that growth really needs to come from the business side. So those tax dollars are generated through that increased revenue. And for that increased revenue to attract the businesses, you got to have more homes,” Duman said. “Trying to make those decisions is always hard to scale. Very seldom is there a right or wrong answer. Very seldom is it black or white, in the most time, it’s in the gray.”

Duman said they have to weigh the pros with the cons. knowing the city can’t have one without the other.

“It’s a challenge. I don’t call it a problem,” he said. “A problem would be nobody wants to live in Suffolk. That’s a problem. There are many localities where the populations are dwindling.:

Duman said Suffolk is fortunate to have people wanting to raise their families and to work here.

“The challenge is trying to keep up with it,” he said.

Duman believes the retreats are important as they allow city leaders to properly talk out the issues. Because of this, he said they might need to consider having them more frequently, such as every three or six months.

But he also pointed out the lack of public attendance and encouraged citizens to come by and listen to future retreats.

“We were set up to accommodate a lot more folks than showed up. We had much less attendance than I thought we’d have,” he said, stressing he believes residents need to attend these meetings. “If we have the retreats and we have the subjects there, I would encourage anyone who has an interest in those particular topics to come and listen to the discussion. Because by doing that, you just don’t see the end result. Even though you can’t speak, you’ll be able to hear the interaction, you’ll be able to hear the presentation.”