Editorial – Big picture must be considered on housing growth

Published 12:41 pm Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Finally, perhaps, a breakthrough in town and county leadership’s mindset on residential growth, this community’s most pressing opportunity and challenge. 

Jennifer Boykin, Isle of Wight County planning commissioner, said it well during a recent meeting where commissioners wisely tabled one in a long line of housing projects under construction or on the drawing board.

“I think we do our community a disservice when we look at each development application on its own and not all of the development applications that are out there or coming our way,” she told colleagues.

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Smithfield Planning Commissioner Thomas Pope has tried to say the same over the past couple of years, most recently regarding schools when the Grange at 10Main was being debated. He asked about the cumulative effect of residential growth approved and proposed on schools, when others were hyperfocused on the impact of the Grange alone. We’re not sure he ever got straight answers.

Anything less than complete support of every residential development proposed can get you ostracized by town leadership. As we learned during the Grange fiasco, if you express even one concern, Chairman Charles Bryan will tell the Town Council you’re “not bold enough,” and urge the council to ignore your recommendation.

Boykin, the county commissioner, is right. Appointed and elected leadership needs to hit the pause button on project approvals and take a comprehensive look at residential growth and its cumulative effects on this community. With so much housing in the pipeline, no single project can be considered in a vacuum. 

Rather than approving random roundabouts to serve specific subdivisions, leadership must assess what road infrastructure improvements are needed to handle all of the coming growth. Then make a master roads plan. Same for schools, law enforcement and sewer. Heaven knows we have enough water, courtesy of the Norfolk Water Deal debacle. (Rest in peace, Al Casteen, the voice in the wilderness more than a decade ago when that ill-advised deal went down.)

County supervisors’ approach to managing the proliferation of solar farms might have merit in the way this community deals with housing. Set a reasonable short-term cap on new rooftops and appoint an independent commission to study residential growth and make recommendations.

Isle of Wight and Smithfield should grow, but not recklessly.