Hospital traffic worries Benn’s Grant residents

Published 1:04 pm Thursday, July 6, 2023

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 9:47 a.m. on July 7 with comments by Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson.

Benn’s Grant Homeowners Association President Brooke Bond is very much in favor of the 50-bed Riverside Smithfield Hospital that will break ground July 26 on land adjacent to the 776-home development – but not Riverside’s plan to use Benn’s Grant Boulevard for highway access.

The road currently consists of a single lane leading into the development from Benns Church Boulevard, a four-lane highway also known as Route 10.

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“The entrance is not wide enough to support emergency vehicles and neighborhood traffic,” Bond contends. “If an emergency vehicle comes through, residential traffic cannot pull over far enough to give way to these vehicles.”

When Isle of Wight County supervisors rezoned the 29.5-acre hospital site in 2008 for commercial uses, Riverside had proffered that it would construct its own north access road onto Route 10.

Proffers are commitments made by developers during the rezoning process intended to mitigate the impact of a proposed development, such as cash payments or land for infrastructure. At the time of the rezoning, the Benn’s Grant development had not broken ground and Benn’s Grant Boulevard did not exist.

On June 15, supervisors approved a revised proffer statement specifying that Riverside, instead of building its own road, will use Benn’s Grant Boulevard. The document, however, specifies Riverside is to grant the county right-of-way access along the northern property line to allow Isle of Wight, the Virginia Department of Transportation or a third party to construct the originally proffered north access road at a later date. Riverside’s plans also call for a right-turn lane on Benn’s Grant Boulevard into the hospital.

“As a residential neighborhood, we want to eliminate excessive traffic and non-residents driving through our community,” Bond said.

Prior to voting on the revised proffers, supervisors voted to waive holding a public hearing on Riverside’s request. State law allows local governments to dispense with a public hearing when the requested change in proffers does not affect “use or density.”

The foregoing of public input prior to the vote irked Benn’s Grant resident Christopher Edge, who, like Bond, is concerned about Benn’s Grant Boulevard’s ability to absorb the hospital traffic.

“The proposed change absolutely changes the use and effect of Benn’s Grant Boulevard for 770-plus residents,” Edge said. “I and most residents are all for the hospital being built next to the neighborhood.” 

According to Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson, the hospital’s use of Benn’s Grant Boulevard has been planned for years. The supervisors’ June 15 vote, he clarified, was in response to Riverside’s request to remove the requirement that the hospital construct an additional access road “in the future.”

Russell Parrish, Riverside’s senior project manager and a Benn’s Grant resident himself, disagrees with his neighbors’ assertion that the hospital’s traffic will overwhelm Benn’s Grant Boulevard.

“I live in the neighborhood,” Parrish said at the supervisors’ June 15 meeting. “I have never experienced a traffic backup in that neighborhood. … I just don’t see it happening.”

Benn’s Grant Boulevard “was not built as an entrance to a subdivision,” Supervisor Dick Grice contended at the same meeting, noting the original plans for the Benn’s Grant development called not only for a hospital but 70 acres of commercial space. A Walmart store had been planned for Benn’s Grant until 2010 when the company decided to instead build a store in Newport News near the James River Bridge.

The roughly $5 million redesign of the Benn’s intersection, intended to bypass the intersection of Routes 10 and 258, began in 2015 and was completed in 2016. The single lanes in and out of Benn’s Grant’s residential phase widen across Route 10 into a four-lane, two-way road that allows direct access from the development to Route 258, also known as Brewers Neck Boulevard. 

Isle of Wight, VDOT, Riverside and the developers of Benn’s Grant and the stalled St. Luke’s Village development planned on Brewers Neck Boulevard each contributed to the cost via what was termed a “public-private partnership” in The Smithfield Times’ 2016 reporting.

The Benn’s Grant Homeowners Association has scheduled an Aug. 22 meeting with Riverside officials at 6:30 p.m. in the Benn’s Grant clubhouse to discuss residents’ traffic concerns.