Growth focus is in Carrollton, Smithfield

Published 7:26 pm Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Transportation, schools are among many issues facing IW as numbers grow

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Some developments are geared for older folks, some for the wealthy and others for young families, teachers and police officers. 

What they all have in common are more people.

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A recent surge in possible new development applications in Isle of Wight and Smithfield is being added on top of another layer of approved, but currently dormant, projects — resulting in a possible increase of more than 3,500 new homes. The prospect of a rapidly growing population is causing county and town officials to consider how to provide services and infrastructure. 

While there are some approved, but dormant, developments in Windsor, the 3,500 possible new houses are in the northern end of Isle of Wight County — namely, the Smithfield and the Carrollton area.  

Of those, more than 800 are age-restricted units and the remaining are for couples, individuals and families at various income levels.  

If added together, and if all the units are built-out and occupied, it could mean another roughly 8,800 people moving to Isle of Wight County. The number is based on 2.53 people per household according to the 2013-17 American Community Survey with the U.S. Census, said Isle of Wight Director of Planning and Zoning Amy Ring. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}


Carrollton Boulevard, particularly the stretch the runs immediately to and from the James River Bridge, has become decidedly more congested during rush hour. The number of stoplights has also increased four-fold in that area over the past 30 years. 

To illustrate the growing number of vehicles, in 1995, an average of 19,000 vehicles traveled from the Bartlett intersection along Carrollton Boulevard north toward the James River Bridge. By 2018, that number had increased to 29,000, according VDOT traffic data. 

One project that is geared to alleviate some congestion on Carrollton Boulevard is the Nike Park extension. The one-mile, two-lane road will connect Reynolds Drive to Carrollton Boulevard south of Northgate Drive — adding another signalized intersection along the roadway. It will also include a 10-foot multi-use path. The project is fully funded and is still in the early phases of development, according to VDOT.

Also funded for improvements is the Bartlett intersection at Brewer’s Neck and Carrollton boulevards, where additional turn lanes will be added. 

There are future plans to widen Carrollton Boulevard from Bartlett to the James River Bridge, however, VDOT is slowly adopting a “corridor preservation” model (see box) of improvements that do not call for acquiring rights-of-way or adding lanes, said Isle of Wight Transportation Manager Jamie Oliver.

Because of that, there could be a change in direction on Route 17 improvements over the next year or two, said Oliver. 

Also on the list is widening Brewer’s Neck Boulevard, widening the entire length of Nike Park Road and improving Smith’s Neck Road. A traffic circle is planned for the intersection of Nike Park and Battery Park roads, and intersection improvements are being eyed at Benn’s Church Boulevard and S. Church Street in Smithfield. 

Oliver said the county will likely update its Brewer’s Neck Corridor Study, approved in 2014, and the countywide transportation plan, approved in 2011, after the Comprehensive Plan update is complete. 

Both of those documents can be viewed on the county’s website under the planning and zoning office, long range plans tab.

One development that is becoming active after being dormant for more than 30 years, Timber Preserve, is approved for 340 houses off Smith’s Neck Road, now a narrow, two-lane road without shoulders and considered dangerous in sections. 

Meanwhile, VDOT has consistently stated that there are no plans to widen the James River Bridge in the near future. The JRB is considered a regional concern and out of the hands of the county. 

The JRB is only one of three routes to the Peninsula from the south side of the James River. The other two are the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel in Suffolk and the Jamestown-Scotland Ferry in Surry County.

At the other end of Carrollton Boulevard in Isle of Wight, traveling south into the City of Suffolk, there is the Crittenden Bridge, another traffic bottleneck along that corridor. There are currently no plans in VDOT’s six-year plan to widen the bridge.

Each development, as it goes through the rezoning process, must submit a traffic analysis providing a look at how many cars a neighborhood is expected to generate. It is generally thought that residential developments generate less traffic than commercial. 


There have long been plans to build a new elementary school in the northern end of Isle of Wight County, but those were recently put on the back burner due to other concerns about existing school buildings. 

The Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors is currently looking to replace the existing Hardy Elementary School, which if completed, could also increase its capacity by about 200 students. 

Adding capacity to Hardy would alleviate crowding at Carrollton Elementary, located in the midst of the development boom. Carrollton is currently at nearly 97 percent capacity.

The Board, pending a facilities study soon to be submitted, is considering replacing or significantly renovating Westside Elementary School. 

Those two projects shifted the School Board’s plan of building a new elementary school down the list on its long-range plan. It was originally planned for 2021. 

Smithfield Middle and Smithfield High schools, also located in the northern end of Isle of Wight, are currently at nearly 91 and 79 percent capacity, respectively. 

There are no plans to expand either building in the School Board’s capital plan approved last August. 

The School Board has attempted to factor in housing developments that have already been approved, at least since 2018, and has estimated those would bring in 899 more students if fully built out — with nearly 89 percent coming from the northern end of Isle of Wight. That number does not include those developments that are poised to enter the application process.

This year, the school division saw a K-12 increase of 105 students this year, with 55 new K-3 students at Carrollton Elementary School. 

Isle of Wight County is served by seven volunteer fire and rescue organizations, which are supplemented with a paid staff through Isle of Wight Emergency Services. 

There was some concern voiced at a recent Board of Supervisors retreat about the growing trend toward building age-restricted units, given that there are several being proposed in the county. 

While housing developments generally generate discussion over school capacity, age-restricted raises questions for first responders, according to county staff. 

An analysis of EMS calls revealed that units geared for older residents generated nearly twice as many calls as those that were not, said Isle of Wight Assistant Director of Planning and Zoning Richard Rudnicki.

Since the northern end of the county is where the growth is targeted, Rudnicki brought up the need to expand the Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department, which provides both fire and EMS services. 

CVFD is getting close to that, said Rudnicki.

Isle of Wight County has recently initiated a facilities study of its fire and rescue infrastructure to see where future improvements may be necessary. One idea is to add an EMS unit in Rushmere to cut down on response times in that area, as well as alleviate the strain on the Isle of Wight Volunteer Rescue Squad, which also serves the northern and central areas of the county. 

Law enforcement

The Isle of Wight County Sheriff’s Office in recent years has beefed up its coverage of Carrollton and Eagle Harbor by adding deputies dedicated to patrolling that area. 

That area generates the most calls in the county and part of the reason is its proximity to the Peninsula via the James River Bridge, as well as the more populated Southside cities. 

The LexisNexis Community Crime Map for Isle of Wight shows a cluster in the northern end this year, with most reports being theft and many being committed by those living outside the county. 

Clarke said many newer residents in that area continue to leave their cars unlocked as they perhaps perceive this is a quieter, rural area, but crime still happens, especially given the ease with which criminals can get across the JRB and points south. 

Given the potential for more development, Clarke plans to ask for more deputies, as well as adding a satellite office at Carrollton Nike Park. 

The satellite office would decrease response times in that area, said Clarke. 

“You can’t get behind the eight ball,” said Clarke about anticipating future growth. 

To increase communication between Isle of Wight and surrounding localities, the county has added a new 911 radio system that not only has a clearer voice quality, but also allows for immediate communication with neighboring law enforcement agencies — and that wasn’t possible before, said Clarke. 


The discussion about the potential for more age-restricted units at the recent Board retreat also hit on the fact that Isle of Wight has an aging population. By next year, 29 percent of Isle of Wight County residents will be age 60 and over, according to projections compiled by the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service. 

By comparison, projections show that 22 percent will be between the ages of 30-49. 

Isle of Wight County’s workforce is already an issue and adding more age-restricted housing is certainly a consideration, said Ring. 

Isle of Wight has struggled with attracting large employers to the county, particularly in its intermodal park. Access to a trained workforce is one consideration businesses use in choosing a location.

Access to an adequate workforce is one factor used by business when it comes to selecting a location. 

Absorbing development

Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson said people are drawn to Isle of Wight because it gives a sense of being in a rural area, as well as having a relatively low real estate tax rate. 

Developers target areas that have easy access to work, recreation, shopping and lifestyle, and that is why the northern end has been attractive, he said. 

However, the county has to balance the property rights of those who want to sell their land to developers against the needs of the community, he said.

“I don’t know if we can put a sign on the (James River) bridge and say we are closed for business,” said Robertson. 

There is always the question of whether the developments will ever be built and under what time frame, he said. 

At the recent Board retreat, Robertson noted that Eagle Harbor took decades to begin construction. 

During the rezoning process, however, “It was a doomsday discussion but it took 20 years,” he said. 

Benn’s Grant, which is now under construction, took seven years to get through the rezoning process, and then another six before construction began. 

Development proposals go through a lengthy process at the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors level, and both include public hearings.  

If Isle of Wight County makes the right decisions along the way, the growth can be absorbed, said Robertson. 

One area that has been removed from the process, however, is proffers. Due to a new state law passed in 2016, Isle of Wight County is now asking developers to conduct their own cash proffer study. 

Previously, Isle of Wight’s proffer policy suggested that developers contribute about $13,000 per housing unit to offset the cost of development on county infrastructure and services, and that was based on its own proffer study. The town of Smithfield has generally relied on the county’s proffer study in the past. 

If a rezoning application is denied, the law requires the county to pass a resolution providing the facts that led to the denial. 

Proffer discussions in the past had often led to protracted negotiations and in some cases, led to more than just cash per lot, such as the Benn’s Church intersection improvements and land for a park in the Rushmere area. 


Corridor preservation

Corridor preservation is a concept being explored by the Virginia Department of Transportation. It seeks to provide access and traffic control while still maintaining traffic speed. The model uses systems that have been employed in other states, and that reduces traffic signals with superstreets, continuous flow intersections and other configurations. Pilot programs have been completed in Goochland, Spotsylvania and New Kent counties.   {/mprestriction}

Information courtesy of VDOT.