Editorial – 2024’s most urgent question

Published 5:04 pm Tuesday, January 2, 2024

The floodgates are open. Will elected leadership shut them before residential growth overwhelms not just this community’s infrastructure but indeed its citizens’ very way of life?

It’s 2024’s most pressing question, and never has an answer been so critical as the one the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors and Smithfield Town Council will provide in the months ahead.

Already, before the first concrete is poured at the massive Mallory Pointe development off Battery Park Road, Isle of Wight County is Virginia’s seventh fastest-growing, chasing places like Northern Virginia and suburban Richmond that are antithetical to the small-town, rural lifestyle that the vast majority of this community’s citizens prefer.

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Word is out among out-of-town developers, who are lined up to feed at the trough. Every week’s front page brings news of hundreds more homes on the drawing board, with only the Isle of Wight Planning Commission expressing the slightest concern that things might be getting out of hand.

The Smithfield Town Council further stacked the deck in favor of runaway growth with the appointments of James Collins and Raynard Gibbs, the latter of whom has never met a development he didn’t like as a member of the town and county planning commissions. 

As if the county’s governing board needed another cog in the growth machine, Renee Rountree should be another reliable vote, having been a favorite of residential developers while on the Town Council.

We hold out hope that the county Planning Commission will talk some sense into elected leadership. The advisory body last month urged county supervisors to reject the 615-home Sweetgrass development behind the Sherwin Williams store on Benns Church Boulevard.

The Dec. 12 vote was emphatic: a 6-2 margin that even Gibbs, who missed the meeting, could not have altered. We are grateful to Planning Commissioners Jennifer Boykin, Cynthia Taylor, Bobby Bowser, Thomas Distefano, George Rawls and Rick Sienkiewicz for having the courage to finally say enough is enough.

They heeded a wakeup call from Ohio-based Cooperative Strategies, which estimates that more than 1,000 new students will enter Isle of Wight County Public Schools as a result of 13 planned housing developments in the county’s northern end, including Smithfield. On Dec. 5, the 267-home Grange at 10Main in Smithfield’s historic district became the 11th to receive rezoning approval. Five, including a 240-unit apartment phase at the 776-home Benn’s Grant community 2 miles outside Smithfield’s town limits, are already under construction.

IWCS lacks the building capacity to accommodate the coming growth. We agree with School Board Vice Chair Jason Maresh, who challenged elected leadership to either make a plan now to fund required school construction or stop approving new housing projects.

When it comes to growth and development, there are no do-overs. The consequences are irreversible. Just ask North Suffolk.