IOW projects move forward

Published 11:37 am Saturday, May 23, 2009

ISLE OF WIGHT—Two real estate developments were approved Thursday despite citizens’ resounding opposition at the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors meeting.

The first issue up for public hearing was a rezoning for mixed-use development of approximately 254 acres of land near the intersection of Benn’s Church Boulevard and Brewer’s Neck Boulevard and within the county’s state-mandated Development Service District. Over 500 housing units are planned as part of the mixed-use development, a project that has been on the table for years and undergone multiple revisions and scaling down by applicants Henry Morgan and Richard Turner.

Vice Chairman Phillip Bradshaw, who has opposed large development projects in the past, said that state legal issues and vested property rights prevented the board from turning down the application.

To turn down an application for rezoning, said Bradshaw, the state requires a legitimate and strong case against the application such as heavy traffic issues or violation of a community’s comprehensive plan. In this case, there was no such justification to warrant a denial.

“I strongly believe in the family farm, and unfortunately that’s a culture that’s changing,” said Bradshaw. “We have the DSDs for development, and we’ve been working on this for years and years.”

Bradshaw also cited the need for development to combat the present economic downturn.

“The economy is in a difficult position,” he said. “We’ve got to have revitalization here. We don’t have a lot of options for people to stay here. Opportunities are going by the wayside.”

Fred Mitchell, a resident of Newport, spoke in favor of the project, which he believes will be beneficial to working families and offset the need to increase taxes.

“We need jobs,” Mitchell said. “Development brings jobs. Rooftops don’t pay taxes, businesses pay taxes.”

The supervisors voted 4-1 for the rezoning, with Supervisor Al Casteen opposing.

An extension of the mixed-use development that was also considered under public hearing was a conditional use permit for a proposed Wal-Mart on the west side of Benn’s Church Boulevard north of Muddy Cross Drive.

Wal-Mart is not yet a signatory and there have been no contractual agreements at this time, Supervisor Stan Clark advised the public. The permit is required because the building’s footprint would exceed 80,000 square feet.

Delores Darden of Windsor urged the supervisors to turn down the application.

“I don’t think people come to Isle of Wight to live or visit because we do or don’t have a Wal-Mart,” Darden said. “They come here because it’s a unique place.”

She added, “It seems to me that if Wal-Mart is going to come to Isle of Wight County, and one day they will be, then they need to be at the table. (When Wal-Mart comes), I think that is when we need to have this public hearing.”

Citizens also raised concerns that bringing a “big box” store to the county would hurt the small businesses. Despite opposition, the supervisors overwhelmingly supported granting the permit.

“Everyone’s talking about the backbone of America,” Clark said. “Small business certainly is, but so is big business. I really thought the backbone of America was competition, free enterprise. Local government cannot prefer one business over another business.”

Bradshaw referred to the City of Franklin and the small businesses located there that he said continue to prosper despite the presence of Wal-Mart and Farm Fresh.

“They’re all there and they’re thriving, and they don’t even have the market base that we have,” Bradshaw said.

The supervisors approved the application 4-1, with Casteen voting in opposition.

Clark said he believed the smaller businesses would survive “just fine.”

“(I think) Americans speak with their pocketbooks,” Clark said. “If they want to support the small businesses, they will.”