Benn’s expansion approved

Published 11:38 am Wednesday, January 24, 2018

More housing means more water customers

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

The Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors approved an additional 216 houses at Benn’s Grant Thursday with a 4-1 vote.

Windsor District Supervisor Joel Acree voted against the application based on residents’ opposition to the plans, which would add 28 condominiums between two lakes formerly set aside for open space, as well as reduce the amount of commercial space in exchange for 84 townhouses and 104 duplexes.

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With the added housing, Benn’s Grant is now approved for 776 residential units. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Branch Lawson, president of the Hampton Roads Division of East West Communities, offered to accelerate the timeline for building a water line in front of the Benn’s Grant property, as well as cover the entire cost of the first leg, and then the cost of the second portion, not to exceed $150 per foot, estimated to save Isle of Wight about $408,000, he said. 

The offer was made to coincide with Isle of Wight’s plans to build a water line from the Suffolk city line to the Benn’s Church intersection to add an emergency access point, as well as address the growing needs in the northern end of the county.

The disparity between the construction of the water line by the developer and the county was a sticking point with Isle of Wight staff and Board members.

Prior to Thursday’s approval, the Benn’s Grant developers had been relieved of the cost of building the water line across their property, which stretches along Route 10, due to a previous Board’s decision to alleviate that cost as a way to jumpstart the development after the Great Recession.

Lawson also pointed out that approving the application would add 216 more water customers for the county.

Currently, Isle of Wight struggles to cover the costs of its water system, which includes payments on the Norfolk water deal and the county has long sought more water customers to push the system into the black.

The developers also made some concessions concerning neighborhood amenities, including setting aside $150,000 for added features to be agreed upon among the residents in the future.

Lawson said the change to the plans would provide a more enticing look for commercial development, as well as provide a larger customer base.

Residents who spoke against the application were concerned with losing a portion of the amenities they had bought into, decreasing home values, as well as the potential increase of school children that the added housing could bring.

Benn’s Grant resident Yadira McCoy said her children are riding crowded buses to school where the classrooms are also crowded. She questioned whether the county’s plan for growth coincides with plans for school capacity.

“I regret moving out there,” she said of her family’s move from Newport News to Benn’s Grant.

Resident Eric Williamson was also opposed due to the rising student population and predicted the county would have to have a bus set aside exclusively for the Benn’s Grant development.

Isle of Wight County School Board Chairman Vicky Hulick said the school division did not fully pay for a school capacity study because the data did not take into account the number of future students that could result from already approved developments in the Newport District.

Hulick said she was disappointed that the school system was being “thrown under the bus” when it came to this application for more housing at Benn’s Grant.

The developers used the school division’s capacity study to argue that there was enough room in the schools to accommodate the additional housing.

Hulick said the school division is looking to add mobile classrooms at two schools, as well as moving up plans for a new school from five years to three years in the future.

When the School Board comes to the county and asks for a new school, “don’t be surprised,” said Hulick.

Others were in favor of more houses and residents.

Bill Kessler, who owns Bojangles in Carrollton, said the county needs a customer and employee base to support the businesses in the northern end of the county, which is lacking right now, he said.

“That whole area was designed years ago to be a growth area. We need employees,” said Kessler of the Newport Development Service District.

The county’s DSDs were devised decades ago as areas to manage and foster growth, prevent sprawl and allow the rural areas to maintain their integrity.

Aaron Millikin, who lives in Gatling Pointe but also works for East West, said Benn’s Grant is located in the DSD, which was designed for growth.

“We’ve been checking the boxes and doing the right thing,” he said.

The Board agreed that the growth in the northern end of the county needs to be better coordinated with school capacity.

“We are managing growth. No one, by any means, is slighting the schools,” said Newport District Supervisor William McCarty.

Supervisors objectivity questioned

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Carrollton resident Albert Burckard asked two supervisors to abstain from voting on Benn’s Grant and both refused.

Burckard pointed out that Carrsville District Supervisor Don Rosie had voted in favor of the Benn’s Grant application to add 216 more units to the development last year while serving as a planning commissioner.

Rosie was elected to Board in November and took office this month.

Burckard also stated that many in the community have the perception that Smithfield District Supervisor Dick Grice was in favor of the project long before the public hearing before the Board of Supervisors, based on comments at some public meetings.

The apparent position by both men has caused a “universal discouragement” by some residents, Burckard said.

Prior to the vote to approve the application, Rosie explained how he made decisions.

Rosie said he takes a “tiered” approach by listening to constituents, staff recommendations and the applicant.

“It doesn’t just go in one ear and out the other,” he said, adding that hostility was not the way to approach the Board.

Rosie said he’s often changed his mind during that process in the past.

“I’ve never come to this table with a preconceived decision,” he said.

Grice said he took “total exception” to Burckard’s suggestion that he abstain.

“I’m insulted,” he said, adding that he’s pro-business, understands the homeowners concerns but that growth was coming.

Grice said he would not exempt himself from commenting on the application or voting on it.  {/mprestriction}