Council revisits Lake Kilby Rezoning request

Published 7:19 pm Friday, August 18, 2023

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After two packed meetings in March and April, a passionate crowd came out for a heated night as City Council revisited the Lake Kilby Shores rezoning request during their Wednesday, Aug. 16 meeting. 

Following postponing consideration during their April 19 hearing, residents and developers made their voices heard at a packed and divided City Hall Chamber – one side with a majority of opposing residents and the other side with a majority of supporting developers. Located on Lake Cahoon Rd and Lake Kilby Rd, the request would change the property from a rural estate zoning district to a residential medium density zoning district. This will also allow for the development of 204 single family homes.

Among those speaking in support of the request, Norfolk Real Estate Lawyer Grady Palmer talked about the importance of a healthy housing market and noting the amount of supporters coming out for the request.

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“We’re here because it’s important for a healthy housing market that allows buyers choices in where they want to live and for a healthy market for new residential communities when – this is important – when it’s consistent with your comprehensive plan…it’s recommended for approval by staff and it’s recommended for approval by your planning commission,” Palmer said. “It needs to grant the people choices that they need to live where they prefer to live.

Speaking in opposition, resident Bryan Harris expressed the dangers of the additional density to the area while noting issues with the traffic impact study.

“The density being proposed would add undue stress to an already congested community. The traffic impact study used by staff to inform their recommendation of approval was littered with errors and omissions,” Harris said. “It was only after the public brought these errors to light and to the attention of the developer was a modified version of the TIS submitted. Some of those items were addressed, most omissions remain.”

Harris continued noting some examples of the issues.

“There was no study conducted at the two closest intersections directly across the street of the frontage of this property. How can that oversight possibly make any sense? Only a partial evaluation was conducted at the intersection of Lake Cahoon and Holland because there was a “lack of available data” That’s what it says,” Harris said. “Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the point of a traffic impact study to collect data? Traffic is a top point for this city. How difficult is it to sit in the intersection and count cars?”

Following other comments of United Development Ordinance dismissal, issues of racial divide and a controversial letter from a resident, Council Member Shelly Butler-Barlow of the Chuckatuck borough expressed her disapproval of the clash between residents and developers.

“I resent the individuals that have been involved in this project that have pitted our citizens against each other. We all live in Suffolk. We want the best for our community and we all want to do what’s right for all of our citizens. So the idea that we should be sitting on opposite sides of the room, fists up ready to go, is really disappointing to me because I think we can all work together for the better of our city. And I hope that’s what this council does,” Butler-Barlow said.

Likewise, she expressed that the debating is symptomatic of what the city is going through alongside “growth fatigue” among citizens. Butler-Barlow expressed keeping the area as an rural estate.

“I think we would serve our community well to keep the RE zoning that is currently on this property and to consider a hard look at the rate of growth that is happening all across this city. Thank you.”

Mayor Michael D. Duman expressed there have been compelling arguments on both sides of the rezoning while noting some discussions detracting from the facts. He noted his two issues towards the rezoning: Proliferation of traffic and student overcapacity. Duman expressed his issues with traffic increase.

“There does seem to be conflicting data relating to this issue. The developer has made a very commendable effort to mitigate these traffic concerns, but personally I’m not convinced the issue will be resolved to the extent necessary.”

However, Duman noted his main concern is student overcapacity detailing that students generating from the development would attend Elephant’s Fork Elementary School while also noting the school is already 120% overcapacity.

“Elephant’s Fork Elementary with no rezoning would require rebuilding along with replacing Kilby Shores Elementary and Nansemond Parkway Elementary. Separately you would have to build three schools,” Duman said. “With rezoning, Elephant’s Fork Elementary and Kilby Shores could be consolidated and replaced with a 1,000 student elementary school. That option would save $30 to 40 million in construction costs plus operation savings.”

Duman continued expressing that while he had no “true objection” to the development, these two issues are currently not satisfactorily resolved.

“And from a developers standpoint, you’re not going to build a school. So it’s got to be more than frustrating when it comes to, in my opinion, the school capacity. But I cannot personally, in good conscience, vote for this rezoning knowing what’s going on in Elephant’s Fork right now.”

To a round of applause from developers, the rezoning request was approved by a vote of 5-3, with Duman, Butler-Barlow and Johnson voting in opposition. During the end of the meeting, Council Member Timothy Johnson commended both sides for coming out to voice their concerns.

“I want to remind people, people that were here that things didn’t go like they wanted them to go, please don’t stop. You make a difference. You make a difference to our city,” Johnson said. “We’re not going to win all the battles, but we’re going to win enough to make the others things better.”