Even slow growth requires diligence

Published 5:33 pm Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Results of the 2020 Census announced this month undercut the popular, but often exaggerated, narrative of uncontrolled growth in Isle of Wight County.

The county’s population increased 9.5% from 2010 to 2020 — Isle of Wight’s slowest rate of growth in five decades and not much bigger than the statewide population increase of 7.9% over the same 10-year period.

At fewer than 40,000 people, Isle of Wight remains the small, quaint, mostly rural community that many of us prefer, even as more people are attracted to the same lifestyle. Of interest, the county’s number of housing units grew faster than the population, suggesting that new residents increasingly are retirees and empty-nesters instead of families that will cause further stress on county schools and other government services.

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That’s not to say that even single-digit growth is free of inconveniences — or that citizens should become any less diligent about planning and zoning decisions by county and town elected leadership.

The recently approved Mallory-Scott Farm development could cause much faster growth in the Smithfield town limits, though defenders of the project, including the developer himself, make the point that the 800-plus homes won’t be built overnight. Market forces will dictate how quickly the homes are built and sold.

The rural, small-town feel of Isle of Wight — unlike, say, Chesapeake and North Suffolk — isn’t for everyone, and the odds of being overwhelmed with suburbanites are slim.

Nonetheless, steady growth over the past half-century should cause local government officials to be more forward-thinking than ever about roads and infrastructure. Call it anecdotal evidence if you will, but anyone who travels Church Street or Battery Park or Nike Park roads, not to mention Routes 10 or 17, can attest that getting around is getting more difficult. That’s not what most of us signed up for.

Truly managed growth, which we support as an alternative to the population loss being experienced by much of rural Virginia, should be almost undetectable in the daily lives of citizens. Elected leadership may have gotten a bad rap by the narrative of out-of-control growth, but transportation and other infrastructure planning needs closer attention.