IOW board offering too many breaks to Benn’s Grant developers

Published 7:59 am Wednesday, July 21, 2010

To the Editor:

They certainly named it correctly when the developers called their project Benn’s Grant.

The Isle of Wight County staff, led by Beverly Walkup, the county attorney and Supervisors Phillip Bradshaw, Stan Clark and Thomas Wright succeeded in giving the developers a grant of $5.9 million in aid to “jump start” 240 apartments.

After all, the developers only proffered a total of $5.5 million to get the whole project rezoned last year. Providing $5.9 million in assistance against a $5.5 million expense is pretty good for the developer. The taxpayer ends up paying that $5.9 million.

It equates to 15 cents in real estate taxes for one year. The logic of giving away another $5.9 million to somehow help compensate for the $6 million loss for International Paper escapes me, but I’m no “visionary.”

The proffer statement was amended the day of the meeting and given to the board when the public hearing began. Prior to that, the board was not told that the proffers had changed.

How staff managed to get the revised proffer statement in time to include it with a handout and incorporate it into the on-screen presentation and yet did not have time to notify board members further calls into question just how public the whole process was intended to be.

I called Beverly Walkup the day of the meeting with a question about the proffers and she didn’t mention that they had been revised. I also reviewed the proffer statement the same day with Mr. Casey in detail and he made no mention of a change.

Since the public did not get any notice of the change in proffers before the public hearing, here is the breakdown of the latest proffer amendments as presented at the meeting:

$1.7 million reduction in cash proffers for the 240 apartments.

$1.6 million original proffer to be used to pay for road improvements originally to be furnished by the developer.

$1.0 million Virginia Department of Transportation assistance for road improvements originally to be furnished by the developer. VDOT money ultimately comes from the taxpayer too.

$1.6 million originally proffered for water and sewer connection/tap fees for apartments will be used to pay for water and sewer line systems originally to be furnished by the developer.

This totals $5.9 million in reduced cost to the developer. The assessed value of the BG property was about $2.0 million before it was rezoned last year. The property is for sale for $16 million.

Welcome to the Isle of Grant.

Al Casteen

Isle of Wight Board of Supervisors