Many questions about Benn’s Grant

Published 11:14 am Wednesday, January 17, 2018

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Utilities, schools and traffic signals were some of the concerns over an application to add more housing at Benn’s Grant in advance of a public hearing scheduled Thursday before the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors.

Smithfield Supervisor Dick Grice brought a list of questions to a Board work session Jan. 10 that centered on utilities, while Supervisors Don Rosie and Joel Acree were concerned with traffic signals, schools and setting a precedent for other developments already approved in the Newport District. 

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The Benn’s Grant developers want to add more housing in lieu of some commercial and open spaces currently approved for the multi-use development. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Despite a good deal of opposition from residents, the Isle of Wight County Planning Commission recommended approval of the expansion with a 6-2 vote.

Rosie was on the Planning Commission at the time and voted in favor of approval.  

Isle of Wight Assistant Planning and Zoning Director Richard Rudnicki said the developer has addressed many of the residents’ concerns.

The application calls for 216 new housing units and will exchange 19.6 acres of commercial property for 84 townhouses and 104 duplexes, and nearly five acres of open space for 28 condominiums.

If approved, Benn’s Grant would have a total of 776 residential units.

Rudnicki said the change would provide an additional 10 acres of open space with a looping trail with lake overlooks rather than the dead-end configuration currently approved.

Grice said he approved of switching out the commercial acreage for residential as the county currently does not have enough housing to compete with regional shopping destinations.

Grice was also concerned with the water line that will be built along the Benn’s Grant property that fronts Route 10.

Isle of Wight County is planning to build a water line from the Suffolk line to the southern edge of Benn’s Grant at a cost of nearly $4 million. That water line was put ahead of another along Route 460 in order to address added growth in the northern end of the county, as well as provide an emergency delivery point. 

According to the county’s ordinance, the developer would be required to pay for the line in front of the Benn’s Grant property, but that requirement was rescinded a few years ago by a previous Board as a way to jumpstart the development after the recession.

With this application, the developers are offering to pay for a portion of the line, but their time line does not match up with the county’s plans to build its line, Rudnicki said.

Isle of Wight County Administrator Randy Keaton said the county plans to begin construction this summer.

Another concern is that the developer’s water utility plan leaves a deficit in water pressure that may not meet minimum Health Department requirements, according to staff.

These issues need to be resolved before the Board moves ahead with approval, said Grice.

Rosie brought up the discrepancy between the Isle of Wight County schools demographic study, which is being used by the developers but is disputed by school administrators.

The study states the schools have adequate capacity, and the developers, using that study, state the schools’ capacity is sufficient for the added housing proposed in the application. School administrators maintain that the study is flawed and does not address future growth from already approved developments.

Maybe it’s time to do a new study, said Grice.

Recently, the School Board has approved mobile classrooms to deal with increased enrollment this year.

It’s not definitive that the increase in students has come from Benn’s Grant, but many people have spoken about the number of children in the development, Rudnicki said.

The Benn’s Grant developers have stated that the housing will be targeted at buyers age 55 and up, but will not be legally restricted to that age group, according to a staff report.

Rosie was concerned that the cost of adding traffic signals along Route 10 is a burden being placed on the county.

According to staff, the developers are making road improvements to deal with traffic, but residential housing alone would not trigger the need for a signal.

Rudnicki said the county would not have to pay, but the added traffic would trigger an analysis.

The commercial and apartment developers would pay for the analysis and traffic signal, but that portion of the development is not owned by the applicant, according to the proffers.

Acree, referring to the already approved developments in the Newport District — about 1,600 – 1,700 housing units not counting Benn’s Grant — was concerned that approving an amendment for more housing in one approved development would open the door for those sorts of amendments from the other developments.

Rudnicki said many of those developments have been on the books for years and as approved, may not work in this economy anyway.

Board to key eye on General Assembly bill on growth

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Isle of Wight County attorney Mark Popovich told the Board of Supervisors during the work session to keep an eye on House Bill 163, which deals with public facilities, residential development and proffers.

A state law adopted last year dramatically restricted localities’ ability to seek proffers. As a result of the law, Isle of Wight repealed its proffer policy. Before then, developers and the county often engaged in lengthy and detailed negotiations concerning the cost of more houses in terms of infrastructure such as schools and emergency services.

Before it was repealed, the county’s proffer policy called for cash proffers of $13,258 per single family unit. The developers are not offering cash proffers for the current application.

Several years ago the Board of Supervisors reduced the cash proffers for Benn’s Grant by half, to $5,370 per house, as a way to jumpstart the development after the recession.

House Bill 163, introduced by Del. R. Lee Ware R-65, allows a locality to base its assessment of a public facilities capacity on projected impacts specific to a previously approved residential development, or portions of that development, that have not yet been completed to determine if a proffer is unreasonable.

One of the school division’s criticisms of the school’s demographic study is that it failed to consider the number of schoolchildren that could result from developments already approved, but not yet built.

Instead, the study, developed last year by FutureThink, considered growth in terms of live birth data, historical enrollment, community demographics and current housing information to arrive at its conclusions, which predicted modest growth in the division for the next decade. {/mprestriction}