Editorial – Critical decisions await supervisors

Published 5:06 pm Tuesday, May 7, 2024

Windsor Town Councilman Marlin Sharp might have been guilty of hyperbole when he told the developer of a controversial proposed warehouse complex on the outskirts of Windsor, “You’re not the enemy; the county is.” Because we’re all in this community together, we prefer those of us on opposite sides of the vigorous debate over growth and development in Isle of Wight not think of one another as the enemy, but we do give Sharp credit for accurately assigning responsibility for the predicament in which Isle of Wight finds itself.

Though some are better than others, developers are not always the bogeymen. Their job is to convert land to a profitable use. And because Isle of Wight has plenty of land and is a desirable place to do business, developers will keep proposing projects. It is the job of elected and appointed leadership in the county and its two towns to decide in each case whether to let them be built.

In recent years, Isle of Wight and Smithfield elected leadership have rarely met a development they didn’t like, from residential to solar to warehouses. And oftentimes, to Sharp’s point, a project is rolling down the track and picking up steam before citizens, and even some public officials, know anything about it. Stephen Faleski’s stellar reporting on the Grange at 10Main last spring revealed developer Joe Luter IV’s work with town and county staff to involve taxpayers in the mixed-use development long before the town Planning Commission got its first look at his plans.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

To the extent county supervisors have gotten out of step with the citizens they serve, the county Planning Commission has been much more willing to side with the community over developers.

Two critical upcoming votes will determine whether supervisors will change course.

The Planning Commission voted overwhelmingly to recommend rejection of the proposed Sweetgrass residential development off Benns Church Boulevard and the Tidewater Logistics Center, the mammoth warehouse complex that drew the ire of Sharp and other Windsor town officials.

We’re especially interested to see how new Town Councilwoman Renee Rountree votes on each. An unapologetic advocate of growth and development during her time on the Smithfield Town Council, Rountree lost more than a third of the vote to a write-in candidate when she ran unopposed for retiring Supervisor Dick Grice’s seat on the county board. Heeding the electorate’s message, she has since led the charge to take a more careful approach to residential development, authoring a growth task force to take a look at the issue. She even suggested a moratorium on approving developers’ applications, but backed down when lawyers advised it might be illegal.

What the lawyers didn’t say clearly enough is that elected officials still have great latitude to determine what gets built and what doesn’t get built in this community. Two critical votes await.