Benn’s residents oppose expansion

Published 12:55 pm Wednesday, October 4, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

East West Communities wants to build 231 additional housing units at Benn’s Grant.

Faced with the proposed housing increase, homeowners already settled in the young development say they’re feeling gypped.

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“Had I known he was going to continue to add on to the property, I would have never, ever bought a home out there,” said Shaniea Adams at a recent Isle of Wight County Planning Commission meeting. “We were promised open space.”

A rezoning application from East West for the new units at Benn’s Grant sparked a flurry of fierce opposition from residents of the neighborhood during the Isle of Wight County Planning Commission meeting Sept. 26. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The public hearing for the rezoning has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 24 at 6 p.m.

The homeowners gathered in anticipation of a scheduled public hearing for the application, and, on learning that East West had asked to postpone the hearing until October, took the citizen’s comment portion of the meeting to voice reservations about the proposal.

“We’re setting ourselves up for a potential disaster,” said Benn’s Grant resident Quincy Beasley of what he said could potentially lead to more traffic on the neighborhood’s small roads and already limited streetlights.

The application is to change 19.6 acres toward the front of the property along Benn’s Church Boulevard from commercial to residential, and 6.8 acres at the back end of the property from “open space” to residential.

At the front of the property, East West is proposing 105 townhouse units and 88 duplex units. For the 6.8 acres toward the rear, it plans to install 38 condominiums, bringing the total number of residential units at Benn’s Grant to 791, according to a county staff report.

The current approved master plan for the property allows for 560 units, according to the application.

“Pretty much everything behind us is woods, and to know that all the lakes are going to be surrounded by condos really aggravates us,” said resident Jeremy Rigau.

Much of the resistance was directed to the 38 condominiums proposed toward the back of the 253-acre property, an area with two lakes where walking trails had been promised, according to residents.

“It’s not in keeping with what people love about this community,” Oak Hill Lane resident James Conklin said of the proposed condominiums.

Resident Victor Smith said that with more apartments, crime rates would go up.

“One of the things we wanted to move to Smithfield for was to get away from a lot of the riffraff,” Smith said.

Many said they had been led to believe the “open space” by the lakes would remain open.

“They’re just constantly adding layer after layer,” said Adams. “We’re packed in almost like rats.”

Another concern voiced was the impact the housing jump would have on county schools.

East West stated in its application that a majority of the new housing would be age-targeted to “empty nesters and active retirees,” and would have minimal impact on the county’s schools, generating roughly 66 more students, worst-case scenario.

Isle of Wight County schools Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton wrote in response to the estimate that the increase, “conservatively,” would cost the school division an additional $500,000.

Benn’s Grant was approved in 2009 after years of discussion, study and furious protest due to the proposed size and the inclusion of a Walmart. The plans initially called for more than 1,000 houses, two big box retailers, including Walmart and a hotel.

Walmart eventually backed out and built a store on the other side of the James River Bridge in Newport News.  {/mprestriction}