Sweetgrass development headed to supervisors in May

Published 3:01 pm Monday, April 29, 2024

Isle of Wight County supervisors have tentatively scheduled a May 16 public hearing, and possible vote, on the 615-home Sweetgrass development proposed for the 250-acre Yeoman Farm by the Sherwin Williams store just outside Smithfield on Benns Church Boulevard.

The date comes five months after a 6-2 December vote by the county’s Planning Commission to recommend denial of Ryan Homes parent NVR’s rezoning application to construct 390 age-restricted, detached homes, 225 unrestricted townhouses and up to 73,000 square feet of retail and office space.

According to the county’s community development director, Amy Ring, the five-month delay came at NVR’s request. Some of the proffers have changed since November though the square footage and number of residences remain the same, Ring said. The county is awaiting a signed copy of the updated proffers and is still reviewing the changes, she said.

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The December vote had followed a presentation by Isle of Wight County Schools spokeswoman Lynn Briggs, who warned the Planning Commission that the cumulative influx of new students from Sweetgrass and other in-progress housing developments could overwhelm at least one of the county’s nine schools and put several others close to their capacities.

The townhouse phase of Sweetgrass is projected to bring up to 77 new school-age children to the county in addition to the more than 1,000 new students IWCS is already expecting from five in-progress developments and another six that have had their rezoning applications approved but haven’t broken ground. According to IWCS, Carrollton Elementary, Smithfield Middle School and Smithfield High School are each already on track to exceed “program capacity” when the influx of students from the 11 in-progress and approved developments arrives. The term refers to state standards for class size rather than building capacity.

What’s unknown is how soon the influx will arrive. A 340-home Carrollton development dubbed “Timber Preserve” was approved in 1986 but still hasn’t broken ground. Cypress Creek, a golf community in Smithfield, has also been in the works since the 1980s and is currently building its sixth and final phase.

Adam Edbauer, general manager of land for Ryan Homes, told the commissioners in November there was “no current capacity need” based on a 2023 study by Ohio-based Cooperative Strategies for IWCS showing all nine schools presently operating within their capacity limits. A point of contention that had preceded the 6-2 December vote concerned whether to consider Sweetgrass on its merits alone or its collective impact with other housing developments.

Sweetgrass, originally proposed in 2019, was part of a flurry of rezoning applications for new or retooled housing developments to reach the county last year. The 317-home “Gwaltney Farms” development proposed in August for 143 acres off Benns Church Boulevard roughly 2 miles away from Sweetgrass is still under staff review and hasn’t yet reached the Planning Commission, nor has a 2023 proposal to expand the 2005-approved but unbuilt St. Luke’s Village from 179 homes to 315.