‘Gwaltney Farms’ development would add 317 homes across from Benn’s Grant

Published 5:38 pm Friday, December 29, 2023

“Gwaltney Farms,” one of the latest in a flurry of recent rezoning applications for new housing developments in Isle of Wight County, proposes to add a mix of single-family homes and apartment buildings along Benns Church Boulevard.

According to county records, Suffolk-based Etheridge Construction acquired the development’s 143-acre namesake Gwaltney Farm in 2005, a decade before competitor East West Communities broke ground on the 776-home Benn’s Grant community now located on the opposite side of the corridor from where Etheridge is looking to build. After letting the land lay dormant for 18 years, Etheridge filed to rezone the land from agricultural to “PD-R” or “planned development – residential” in August.

The submitted application calls for 141 detached houses and 176 apartments spread across 11 two-story, 16-unit multifamily buildings for a total of 317 homes.

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Gwaltney Farms would be Etheridge’s first expansion into Isle of Wight County. The company is presently building out three developments, all located in the city of Suffolk, including the 222-home Planters Station community off Godwin Boulevard near Sentara Obici Hospital.

Isle of Wight County land transfer records showed an Etheridge subsidiary – Northampton Associates LLC – having purchased an additional 180 acres in May spanning from the Gwaltney Farm to the intersection of Benns Church and Brewers Neck boulevards. Etheridge did not immediately respond to The Smithfield Times’ request for details regarding the May purchase.

According to the submitted rezoning application, Etheridge plans to offer prospective buyers of the detached houses a choice of four model homes ranging from 1,800 to 3,000 square feet and from $425,000 to $525,000. If the rezoning is approved, Etheridge’s application estimates construction would begin in the spring of 2026 and be completed in three or four phases.

According to a traffic study submitted with Etheridge’s rezoning application, Gwaltney Farms would generate an additional 2,587 average daily vehicular trips, or an increase of up to 10%, in the number of vehicles traversing the Benns Church and Brewers Neck intersection toward Smithfield or Carrollton.

According to Dec. 14 projections by Isle of Wight County Schools, Gwaltney Farms would add just over 100 new school-age children to the county’s population. While Etheridge’s application package asserts the county’s school system has capacity to absorb the influx, IWCS contends the cumulative impact of Gwaltney Farms and 14 other proposed developments, 11 of which have already had their rezoning applications approved, would push Carrollton Elementary, Smithfield Middle School and Smithfield High School beyond the maximum class sizes allowed by the state.

The Gwaltney Farms application is currently under review by county staff. Once the review is complete, it will head to Isle of WIght’s Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors for separate public hearings and votes on the requested rezoning.

Isle of Wight County and the town of Smithfield collectively saw seven proposals for new housing developments in 2023. Gwaltney Farms is one of three that would be located on Benns Church Boulevard. 

Less than a month after county zoning staff received Etheridge’s application for Gwaltney Farms, Smithfield planning staff received an application from Charlottesville-based Greenwood Homes for “The Promontory,” which would add 262 homes and five commercial parcels along the Benns Church corridor adjacent to Tractor Supply. The Promontory site is located just inside the town limits roughly 2 miles northeast of the Gwaltney Farms site.

On Dec. 12, Isle of Wight’s Planning Commission voted 6-2 to urge county supervisors to reject a rezoning application for the 615-home Sweetgrass development proposed for the 250-acre Yeoman farm by the Sherwin Williams store on Benns Church Boulevard. Ryan Homes parent NVR has proposed 390 age-restricted detached homes and 225 unrestricted townhouses for Sweetgrass, which would be located less than half a mile from The Promontory but on the opposite side of the corridor and on the county’s side of the Smithfield town limits. The commissioners cited the school system’s capacity projections as their primary reason for recommending denial of the Sweetgrass application, though county supervisors will have the final say when the matter goes before them on Jan. 18.