Planners back a bigger Benn’s

Published 11:01 am Wednesday, December 6, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

Residents of Benn’s Grant say they were promised a serene view of the site’s two lakes when they first bought into the new development.

They’ll still get a view, Benn’s Grant developers proposed Tuesday. It will just include 28 condominiums in the middle of it.

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At its meeting Tuesday, Nov. 28, the Isle of Wight County Planning Commission voted 6-2 for more condominiums and more growth in the northern end of the county as it approved a conditional zoning amendment request from East West Communities, which is looking to rezone 26.43 acres of commercial and open space areas to residential in order to implement 216 additional housing units at Benn’s Grant.

With the weight of the Planning Commission and county staff now standing favorably behind it, the developer’s application will move on to the Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors for a final decision at a public hearing Thursday, Dec. 14. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

The Nov. 28 meeting was the third attempt from East West to heave the controversial rezoning proposal past the commission. The plan has been met with waves of passionate opposition from those residing in the budding community, some of whom have lived there as long as a year, some just a few months.

The offer of 216 more housing units on the development was paired down from the 231 units proposed at previous meetings by East West.

Commissioners tabled the application after a heated public hearing last month, in part so developers could meet with residents to work out a more amicable compromise over the open space between the lakes, which had been one of the most ire-inducing aspects of the proposal for residents.

The 28 condos are 10 fewer than originally proposed and will allow for 0.9 acre of more space in front of one of Lake 3 than in the previous proposal, according to the developers.

East West also altered its duplex and townhouse proposal, decreasing its townhouses from 105 to 84, and increasing its duplex units from 88 to 104.

East West said it would look to increase the site’s open space as well, offering to purchase acreage along the edges of the development around the lakes, where it plans to create walking trails, bringing the site’s open space acreage from 61 to 71.

“We felt that we addressed that issue head on,” said East West Hampton Roads Division President Branch Lawson of open space.

Residents who spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting disagreed.

“Everyone in there that bought into the neighborhood were told about the open space and the two lakes,” said Steven Gurley. “That’s why I moved in there.”

“Give us what we were told we were going to have.”

Many residents have complained that the site is already starting to feel overcrowded as it is.

“I will just move, because I don’t want to be in a neighborhood where I feel more and more crowded every single week,” said Richard Harris, who lives on Oak Hill Lane in Benn’s Grant.

The impact that the increase in housing units might have on the county school system has been a subject of debate several months now. Superintendent of schools Dr. Jim Thornton has stated that the influx of potential students would be significant and spur the need for more transportation and classroom space. East West has insisted that the impact would be minimal.

The developers have been citing a capacity study commissioned in 2016 by the school division, which showed relatively stagnant growth in the schools over the next 10 years, but which did not take approved developments into account in its projections. It has since been disputed by the division, which saw an unexpected uptick of 55 students overall this year.

Commissioners Edward Hulick and Cynthia Taylor cast the only dissenting votes for the application.

Hulick said he believed the original enrollment study was flawed, and that schools in the northern end are already becoming crowded.

Taylor said that there are other places at the Benn’s Grant site the developer could move the 28 proposed condominiums.

“These lakes were designed for the enjoyment of all the residents there,” said Taylor, “not just the chosen few who happen to have their houses on the lake.”

Commissioners William Saunders and Thomas Duerig were absent.  {/mprestriction}