Expanded Benn’s Grant draws ire

Published 12:48 pm Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Some residents feel betrayed by plans

By Ryan Kushner

Staff Writer

The offering of a new walking trail and an additional $250,000 in amenities was not enough to calm a sea of opposition to a proposed housing unit expansion at Benn’s Grant.

Homeowners in the budding community returned to the Isle of Wight County Planning Commission for a public hearing this past week to speak out against a rezoning request from East West Communities, which is looking to add an additional 231 housing units at the property in its next phase.

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Residents previously voiced a wave of discontent for the proposal in September, but the public hearing was postponed by the developers until Tuesday, Oct. 24.

East West is seeking to rezone 19.6 acres along the front of the property from commercial to residential to allow for 105 more townhouse units and 88 duplex units. The developer is also requesting 6.8 acres toward the back of the property change from open space to residential in order to add 38 condominiums between the property’s two lakes.{mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The Planning Commission opted to table action on the rezoning request following the hearing, in order to clarify questions surrounding water pressure and the impact of the proposal on public schools.

Hardy District Planning Commissioner Bobby Bowser also said he wanted to give the developer more time to continue to work with current homeowners on finding a middle ground in the proposed expansions.

The county said that the developer’s plan did not use the correct calculations in determining water pressure at the site, a claim the developer disputes. The county’s consultant performing the evaluation had been hard to get ahold of, and the final information was not available at the time of the public hearing, according to Director of Utility Service Don Jennings.

Isle of Wight County Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton also said that the impact of the development would have a significant impact on the county’s northern end schools, which are already nearing capacity limits.

The possible loss of the current “open space” between the lakes, where residents had been promised a walking path, sparked perhaps the most kickback from the proposed development, residents saying the buildings would destroy the rural scenery of the lakes.

East West Communities Hampton Roads division president Branch Lawson said the developers had attempted to address resident concerns expressed at the September meeting, and said that a larger pool will be constructed at the site’s clubhouse, and a walking trail would be extended to loop around the lakes instead of between them (where the proposed condos would go).

East West would also purchase at least 2 acres of surrounding land to create more green space, according to Lawson.

“We should more than compensate for the loss of open space acreage,” Lawson said.

Homeowners at Benn’s Grant who spoke at the public hearing disagreed, saying that the expansion was not what they had been promised when they moved into the development, and that the streets were already becoming congested.

“We were promised a lifestyle that included not having an overly crowded development,” said Oakhill resident Joe Mastrangelo. “… That’s what we were sold and that’s what we bought into.”

Shaniea Adams said if developers were willing to pay the additional $250,000 in amenities, they should also buy her out of her property.

“Buy me out and I will gladly move,” said Adams. “This is not what I signed up for.”

At the site, 560 housing units have already been approved. The expansion, if approved, would bring the number up to 791.  {/mprestriction}