Editorial – Growth task force is badly needed

Published 5:45 pm Tuesday, January 16, 2024

It might be a couple of years too late, especially for the Town of Smithfield, but we hope an important conversation is sparked by Isle of Wight County Supervisor Renee Rountree’s proposal to hit the pause button on new housing developments while community leadership gets its arms around the monster already created. 

We’re pleased to see the Isle of Wight County School Board already lobbying for a seat on Rountree’s proposed growth management task force, which should be quickly embraced by both the Board of Supervisors and Town Council, even as many in their ranks, including Rountree, will surely be called out for hypocrisy after helping create the current crisis.

Rountree, who was elected in November after losing 40% of the vote to a write-in candidate, called for creating the task force at the supervisors’ Jan. 4 meeting.

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As our Stephen Faleski has reported, Isle of Wight, already the seventh fastest-growing county in Virginia, according to census data, saw seven rezoning applications for new and expanded subdivisions in 2023 that would collectively add over 1,900 new houses to the county’s northern end. Another 2,200 homes spread across eight developments approved prior to 2023 can break ground anytime.

Traffic is already a mess in Smithfield and Carrollton, even before the first house is occupied in the massive Mallory Pointe development on Battery Park Road. There’s nothing to suggest town and county roads are ready to absorb the even faster growth that’s coming. Then there’s the impact on public education, thus the School Board’s interest in Rountree’s proposal.

A study commissioned by Isle of Wight County Schools last year projects that three schools – Carrollton Elementary, Smithfield Middle and Smithfield High – will be over capacity when housing projects currently in the pipe are completed.

School Board Chairman Jason Maresh had recently urged town and county leaders to either make a funding plan for school construction or stop approving new residential developments.

In last week’s School Board meeting, he urged his colleagues, county supervisors and Smithfield’s and Isle of Wight’s respective planning commissions to consolidate their efforts to plan for the inevitable enrollment growth.

Rountree has proposed a 10-member task force composed of one supervisor, one council member from each town, one unelected representative from each of the county’s five voting districts and two at-large members from the county’s northern end to create a comprehensive list of costs, needs, benefits and impacts of growth. Add a couple of school representatives and it has the potential to be an effective body for at least understanding the problems. 

More important will be how elected leadership, including Rountree, reacts to the task force’s findings. Citizens, at the ballot box and in other forums over the past few years, have made clear that they abhor the ongoing transition from a quaint, rural community to Hampton Roads suburbia. They’re cautiously optimistic as this overdue conversation begins.