The year that government seemed to stop listening

Published 1:57 pm Wednesday, December 30, 2015

By Diana McFarland

News editor

No one was listening at the courthouse.

That was the common refrain from Isle of Wight residents in 2015, as debate raged over ISLE 2040, the Gatling Pointe water line, the fire and rescue facilities use agreement and the proposed Route 460.

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The debate culminated with three new members elected to the Board of Supervisors and the resignation of the county administrator after two years on the job.

The now failed ISLE 2040 was conceived by Isle of Wight County staff as a way to mitigate the costs of the unpopular and expensive Norfolk water deal and entice more retail businesses by paving the way to dramatically increase residential density in the northern part of the county. County officials insisted Isle of Wight was set to receive more than 20,000 new residents by 2040 and there was nothing to be done about it other than build more houses, duplexes and apartments.

Residents didn’t buy it.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The fervor resulted in a rare display of picket signs during one Board of Supervisors meeting on the plan, a petition to the court to stop the water line to Gatling Pointe — which was viewed as part of ISLE 2040 — and a flurry of letters to the editor and questions to Isle of Wight officials and public comments during meetings.

The issue came to a head in July when the Board voted 4-1 to deny the plan.

The swing vote came from outgoing Windsor Supervisor Dee Dee Darden who summed up the sentiments of many by saying, “This whole ISLE 2040 thing has gotten ugly.” Only Hardy District Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson voted in support.

One lingering part of ISLE 2040 is the proposed Gatling Pointe water line. While the plan was defeated, whether to proceed with the water line is a decision for the new Board of Supervisors. The Planning Commission recommended denial because it wasn’t in accord with the current comprehensive plan, which advises against building utilities outside the development service district. Gatling Pointe is located outside the Newport DSD, but would have been included had ISLE 2040 passed.

Fire and rescue

The bitter debate over the fire and rescue facilities use agreement continued throughout most of the year. It was conceived as a way to standardize maintenance and operations at Isle of Wight’s seven county-owned facilities and initially, five of the county’s seven fire and rescue agencies signed on.

The Carrollton and Windsor volunteer fire departments refused to sign the original agreement, prompting county officials to withhold funding unless each agency followed an onerous method of submitting bills. The two agencies tightened theirs belts, went without county contributions and hired lawyers to hammer out a more attractive agreement that the Board adamantly said it would not change.  The two agencies also petitioned for its yearly contributions, with the threat of going to court if nothing changed.

The Board blinked.

In the end, Windsor and Carrollton agreed to a document with a shorter term — one year versus 20 years with five three-year extensions and other concessions. The other five agencies signed it too, but that move angered Carrollton and Windsor firefighters who thought they ended up footing the bill for an agreement that was more palatable to all. Carrollton and Windsor have asked the Board of Supervisors to pay their attorney fees, but that decision was left to the new Board in January.

Attorney Stephen Test, who represented Carrollton and Windsor, summed up the stand-off by saying “my clients are willing to close the door on the past acrimony.”

The 460 plan

Residents in the southern end of Isle of Wight were dismayed when VDOT’s “hybrid” plan to improve Route 460 included a four-lane bypass to the north of the town of Windsor. The northern bypass would cut through homes and farms, and county officials were concerned the new road would not include the needed access points at the Intermodal park and Route 258.

While the town of Windsor decided to oppose the plan, Isle of Wight officials decided to support the hybrid plan if VDOT would concede to several requests — such as an overpass at the intersection of the bypass and Route 258.

Windsor area residents were not happy with that decision. And despite an appeal by the mayor of Windsor and community leaders, the Board of Supervisors held fast to its support of the hybrid plan.

Recently, however, the Board learned that VDOT had ignored its requests and now plans to send a letter expressing its disappointment. Whether the road even gets built remains unknown, as it must be scored under a new state law that, in Hampton Roads, cites relieving traffic congestion as the most important component for a new transportation project. That decision is still in the air.


It was also an election year.

Early on, incumbents Al Casteen and Buzz Bailey decided not to run for another term on the Board of Supervisors. Casteen said he was fed up with the courthouse himself, while Bailey blamed his decision not to run on the publisher of The Smithfield Times in reference to an earlier scandal involving racist emails concerning President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Darden decided to run for a second term despite the issues that left her roundly criticized in her district. Weeks before the election, Bailey had a change of heart and mounted a last-minute campaign to run as a write-in candidate, but his motives were questions and he was not allowed to participate in a candidate debate.

Official candidates for the Board included two activists who filed a writ of mandamus against the waterline, a local businessman, a preacher and the former fire chief of the Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department. In the end, Darden lost her seat to fire chief Joel Acree, businessman Dick Grice won the Smithfield seat and Carrollton preacher William McCarty won the Newport District seat.

Also reelected were Isle of Wight Sheriff Mark Marshall, Commissioner of Revenue Gerald Gwaltney, Treasurer Judy Wells, Circuit Court Clerk Sharon Jones and Commonwealth’s Attorney Georgette Phillips.

Shortly after the election, County Administrator Anne Seward abruptly resigned, citing the election outcome as one of the main reasons. The new supervisors had campaigned on the lack of trust and transparency at the courthouse and were often at odds with Seward and her staff. 

While her tenure as county administrator was rocky in several respects, Seward was credited with eliminating Isle of Wight’s budget deficit and putting its finances back in the black. Under her tenure, the county also instituted a one-stop central permitting office and set aside funds to create permit ready sites at the intermodal park.

Long-time county employee Don Robertson has agreed to serve as an interim county administrator until the new Board of Supervisors decides its next move in January.

Other notable happenings:

•Isle of Wight County decided to produce its own news site that included the “fact-checker” — which attempted to dispel “rumors” with “facts.” While county officials say it increases communication with residents, many have found it humorous or dismissed it entirely. 

•Construction has begun on the once controversial Benn’s Grant mixed-use development. A model home has been completed and work is underway on the intersection, which will widen lanes and add a connector road behind Benn’s United Methodist Church. In all, the development was rezoned in 2009 for 289 single-family homes, 31 townhouses and 240 apartments. It also includes 700,000 square feet of commercial development and a hotel. Located next door is the future Riverside Medical Complex, which was rezoned separately.

•Keurig Green Mountain was sold to Europe-based JAB Holdings Company for $14 billion earlier this month. Keurig came to Isle of Wight in 2012 and is the county’s fourth largest employer. {/mprestriction}