Residents show overwhelming support for county comprehensive plan, but amendments raise concern

Published 9:47 am Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Following a lengthy public hearing, the Southampton County Board of Supervisors on Monday evening adopted the amended draft of the 2015-2025 Comprehensive Plan by a 6-1 vote. Supervisor Glenn Updike, Newsoms District, voted against the plan because he took issue with the recent amendment regarding the designation of the plot of land between Riverdale Elementary and the Franklin city limits.

“We say that we don’t have any place for businesses to go, but the planning commission has over 10,000 acres designated for development. Everything from the high school to Franklin is zoned industrial,” Updike said. “Why would the planning commission designate all these areas industrial? There are 1,000 acres on the highway designated for industrial, and to say this is only one site in the whole county that can be developed is a little bit absurd.

“There are places they can put these for less money to the taxpayers than to put a new development. The planning commission has given these things serious consideration, and we should follow it.”

The other board members cited regional advancement and the recent budgetary crisis as reasons why the adoption of the plan was critical to the county.

“I think that we have to look to the future,” said Vice Chairman Ronald M. West. “I voted for a budget that I wasn’t proud of, and fact is that we did not have money unless we raised taxes. I think that this zoning change is a plan for the future that people can look at this and say, ‘Southampton County is open for business.’”

Franklin-Hunterdale District Supervisor Barry T. Porter said that the plan offers the opportunity to bring high-tech, well-paying jobs to Southampton County.

“We’re trying to get clean businesses here … but everyone says [they should] go somewhere else.

“Nobody on this board has ever had any conversations about putting heavy industry there. What we’re looking for is a clean, well-landscaped business park. We’re sending a message to the owners that if you want to come here, you have to develop it under our rules. We’re setting these rules so that we don’t give the landowner carte blanche to do what he wants to do with the property. He does it under our conditions.

“People are blowing this whole thing out of proportion,” Porter continued. “This is the kind of decision we need to make to ensure the future that our kids need. The kind of place where we can have businesses and well-paying jobs. But if we don’t create a place that they can call home, we’re going to die.

“I never make a decision about what’s going to happen on this board tomorrow, or even the next day. I’m always looking 10 years out. You have to have a vision or you’re going to die… [this] is the compromise that we need to work out to have the county develop the future that we all need and deserve.”

In accordance with state laws, each locality in Virginia is required to review and amend its comprehensive plan at least once every five years. Southampton County last adopted a comprehensive plan in March 2007.

The plan itself covers a variety of topics, including economic development, natural resources, parks and recreation, historic preservation, transpiration, land use and other physical, social and demographic factors. It also serves as a decision-making tool for the board of supervisors and the planning commission.

There were a number of public forums held over the past year, as residents of Boykins, Capron, Courtland and Ivor were encouraged to give their input on the county’s direction. The plan was discussed and recommended to the board of supervisors following another public hearing, and the county added several amendments that it saw fit before opening the final public hearing on Monday.

A number of community leaders and business owners spoke in favor of the comprehensive plan and its components, including Executive Director of the Franklin-Southampton Chamber of Commerce Theresa Beale, Southampton County Public School Board Chairman Dr. Deborah Goodwyn and Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc. President and CEO Amanda Jarratt.

“A few weeks ago, we hosted Secretary [of Commerce and Trade Maurice] Jones and he issued us that day an invitation — an invitation to compete with the rest of the Commonwealth and to compete with Hampton Roads — and I can tell you tonight, gentleman, as I’ve told you every month, we’re not competing to the greatest of our abilities,” Jarratt said. “We have very little publicly controlled land that is available for development and is properly zoned. Industrial development is one thing, but light industrial, food processing, high-tech industries are the projects that are looking at Hampton Roads and not looking at us.

“Even with existing businesses that are present in Southampton County and may want to expand, we have one option that’s available to them. One. We must decide if we truly want to compete for these projects that are considering Hampton Roads or the areas around us or if we’re satisfied with the status quo.”

Local business owners also spoke about why they support the comprehensive plan and its amendments. One example was James Strozier, co-owner of Highground Services, an engineering and construction company located in the Franklin Business Incubator.

“ I think that industrial growth is essential to our business and the residents in the area. [It] allows us to keep our agricultural heritage, which is extremely important to each of us, but the agricultural base alone is not enough to sustain us. As important as agriculture is, we can not rely on it for the future of our livelihood,” Strozier said.

“Look at Appalachia, where residents thought that coal mining would be around forever. I feel quite certain that every one of us feels fortunate that we don’t live in that region today. We can fail to plan and we will certainly plan to fail, or we can develop and plan that will promote growth around our agricultural heritage and ensure a much brighter future for all of us. Not developing a plan is not only a disservice to our youth, but to every one of us.”

Bobby Cutchins, owner of Bobby’s Muffler and Tire Center, added that the county has to “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It’s up to us. If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll keep getting what we have. We must be pro-business and we must be able to keep the taxes affordable for the business and households. More businesses means more funds for the schools, and the children are our future.”

Not all those who spoke at the public hearing were in favor of all aspects of the comprehensive plan, including life-long Southampton County resident Kathleen Brown. She spoke about the amendment regarding the plot located adjacent from Riverdale Elementary School on Camp Parkway, and was concerned that the county and its subsidiaries were focusing on this development and neglecting the existing industrial sites.

As was adopted in the 2007, the property was zoned for single family residences and subsequently proposed by the planning commission to be changed to a low and medium density residential and mixed use area. The new comprehensive plan changes its designation to an employment center, which Jarratt described as a business park-like development with light industrial research and development warehousing and offices in a campus-like setting and commercial enterprises that support industrial and office development in the surrounding area.

“It seems that I was here not too long ago speaking to board members about a development across the street from where I live, and it has once again reared its ugly head,” Brown said. “We, the county, at one time approved this for single family housing and I spoke in front of the board and said that as little as I want to see this come, change and progress are inevitable. But we needed to be careful on what we approve.

“For whatever reason — the economy, bad planning or bad speculation on the part of the developers — those houses never happened. So they came back and recommended that we change everything we have in place an allow them to put in apartment buildings. Once again, I got before board and spoke on that. When they talked about filling these 700 houses and apartment complexes, I asked them at the meeting, ‘Where do you think these people are coming from that are going to fill these houses and apartments?’ Their answer, after a little bit of throat clearing, said, ‘Well, we’ve done studies.’

“Some have tangible statistics that they can look at. Numbers that they can put on paper. A study of how many people are going to move from Chesapeake, Portsmouth and Norfolk to fill housing in Southampton County is a little more vague. But they had it all on paper. The planning commission came back and recommended that we do not approve that apartment building, so we the county did not.

“Now they’re back, and this time it appears that they want to put some sort of an industrial site, warehouses or something. Well, once again, I’m here and want to ask why they want to put brand new warehouses in a non-existing lot when there are three relatively closely located industrial parks that already have direct access to Route 58 that can handle to traffic that would come in and out? Why on earth would anybody want to spend the money to put a complex where one does not already exist?

“Now, I fully support the comprehensive plan as it was brought back by the planning commission; clearly someone there felt that it also didn’t pass the common sense test. I know we have proponents of this project … but I do have to ask if FSEDI is intent on trying to fill the existing industrial lots as they are wanting to support a brand new one. It’s zoned totally residential, has no direct access. How far do we want to sink our county into debt to improve the roads to get them to the lot and build such a site on that piece? I don’t see any way of getting around the fact that if we do this, it’s going to plunge this county into debt that we won’t see any relief from for decades.”