Editoral – Further proof of unhealthy growth in Isle of Wight

Published 5:21 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Just in case the U.S. Census Bureau isn’t reliable enough for town and county elected officials, the esteemed Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia has arrived at the same conclusion: Isle of Wight County is among the 10 fastest-growing localities in Virginia.

The Census Bureau estimated that Isle of Wight’s population grew 2% in a single year, from 2021 to 2022. Our Stephen Faleski reports on this week’s front page that Weldon Cooper estimated nearly 6% growth from 2020 to 2023. By any definition, it’s rapid growth that existing infrastructure, especially roads, is not equipped to handle, even as 2,200 more homes have been approved and 1,900 additional houses are on the drawing board.

According to the Weldon Cooper data, 2023 was the second straight year that Isle of Wight’s population grew 2% from the prior year. The pace will quicken with the massive Mallory Pointe subdivision having broken ground off Battery Park Road.

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Politicians talk about so-called “smart growth” or “managed growth.” It’s time for elected leaders, and the legal counsel that advises them, to define exactly what that means and how to achieve it. Clearly, it’s not being practiced currently.

Town and county attorneys were quick to declare illegal former Town Councilwoman and current Supervisor Renee Rountree’s proposed moratorium on residential rezonings while a task force figures out how the community can get its arms around rapid growth, or a “sunset clause” that would cancel decades-old rezonings where projects have stalled. We didn’t go to law school, but surely, even in a Dillon Rule state, localities aren’t obliged to let out-of-town developers overwhelm their infrastructure and destroy what makes them special.

In the case of Isle of Wight, it’s small-town charm and a slower pace of life that caused many “from here’s” to stay and “come here’s” to pick as an alternative to urban and suburban sprawl, and all of the headaches it creates. 

Perusing the list of fastest-growing communities, Isle of Wight might consider banding together with rural communities near Richmond that are also under siege: New Kent, Goochland, Louisa

and Caroline counties. 

The alternative is to stand down and become another Suffolk or Chesterfield, to name two communities that illustrate the dangers of uncontrolled growth.

It might just be worth a jilted developer’s lawsuit to bring some clarity to a question that, if the answer is assumed in favor of unchecked development, threatens our community as we know it.