Editorial – The way forward  after Windsor saga

Published 7:00 pm Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Score one for the people.

Isle of Wight supervisors’ 4-1 vote this month to reject a large warehouse complex abutting residential Windsor was a refreshing reminder that you can fight City Hall, or, in this case, the county courthouse, where forces had been working on the project for years.

Thanks to an increasingly assertive county Planning Commission, Windsor’s vocal elected and appointed leadership, and a determined citizenry, a majority of supervisors reached the right conclusion. We commend Joel Acree, William McCarty, Don Rosie and Renee Rountree for their vote. Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson sided with county staff and with regional economic developers who expect rural Western Tidewater to disproportionately bear the unpleasant requirements of a strong regional economy, in this case warehouses to support the booming Port of Virginia.

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There are many lessons to be learned from the project’s defeat, and an opportunity to build a stronger community where elected officials and unelected staff are on the same page, and where citizens are treated as true stakeholders whose opinions matter.

Primarily, Isle of Wight needs a bold, comprehensive economic development strategy, and a plan to achieve it. Warehouses and residential rooftops are easy ways to make the tax base larger, but they carry a heavy price for a community whose cherished identity is its rural character and small-town pace. In a community with Isle of Wight’s prime geography, the line between bedroom community and suburbia is fine, and once it’s crossed, there’s no going back. Ask neighboring Suffolk, which made its choice decades ago.

A successful economic development strategy requires cohesion among elected leadership, appointed leaders and citizens. We understand completely that economic development is a long game, whereas a county supervisor’s term is four years. Still, there’s an opportunity for elected leaders to collaborate with citizens and establish a vision for the community that staff and the county’s Economic Development Authority then work to achieve.

In the case of the Windsor warehouses, the EDA, economic development staff, county administrator and planning staff got way too far ahead of elected leadership and the community they serve. The property was being marketed for so-called logistics and distribution before anyone else thought it was a good idea. 

We have some empathy for the developer who jumped on that invitation, only to learn that the EDA and county administration were singing from a different hymnal than the community at large. The tail did its best to wag the dog, with county staff encouraging supervisors to reject the advice of their own Planning Commission. That should never be allowed to happen again. It is staff’s job to provide the information that planning commissioners and supervisors need to make their decisions. Staff opinions about how they should vote are unnecessary, and the practice should stop.