Planning commission against Camp Parkway project

Published 9:44 am Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Southampton County Planning Commission on Thursday voted, 8-1, to recommend that the board of supervisors deny a request from Hampton Roads Development to rezone a parcel of land on Camp Parkway adjacent to Riverdale Elementary School. Those against the development cited location — not the project itself — as for why they’d like the supervisors to follow suit.

“I’ve spent the last week looking at the positives and the negatives,” commissioner Dr. Alan Edwards said. “I put myself in the position of the rest of the county, and then I put myself in the position of if I lived [near the possible development]. First of all, I’ve always felt that the first people there had first choice and first rights. I’ve added up the positives and negatives, and, unfortunately, I’ve come up with a lot more negatives and a lot more questions than I have positives. I’ve been on the board here since 1987, and the one thing I don’t believe in is destroying a community unless it’s absolutely necessary and is going to save the rest of the county. I don’t see that in this. I feel that this would destroy that community. These people came here and built here with the knowledge that this was residential.

“Of course,” he continued, “from being on the board of supervisors, I would like the income, too. But I’m not even sure what’s going in here. There’s so many different things [that have been thrown around], but I don’t see anything solid here. Certainly, the county does need economic development, but it is my humble opinion that this is economic development in the wrong place.”

Some of the nearly 40 people in attendance clapped at Edwards’ comments.

“I think the plan is a good plan,” said commissioner Douglas Chesson. “It’s well thought out, well developed and there’s been lots and lots of energy spent on this plan. I’d love to see it, but I personally feel like this type of development is not fit for this location.”

Chairman Michael Drake said that it all boils down to the board trying to look toward the future.

“We’re kind of like a weatherman trying to predict the weather. He does it a few days out and still gets it wrong. We’re talking years out. We’re talking about a buildout that may take 25 years. We just don’t know. We don’t have the capability of predicting the future. But, I need to look at what’s fair now and what I may think will happen.

“I look at [Camp Parkway] as the gateway to Franklin,” he continued. “That farm got caught up in progress. At some point, that farm will be developed, but when it is, I see a continuation of the residential development in the City of Franklin.”

The property is 438.71 acres on the north side of Camp Parkway, which extends from behind Riverdale to the Franklin City limits and to the railroad tracks on both sides of Delaware Road. It is currently zoned A-2 (agriculture) and R-1 (residential), but Hampton Roads Development LLC is seeking for the property to be rezoned to CM-1 (Conditional Limited Industrial) with proffers.

“You have to think about the children of the school and the people that go to the church [High Street United Methodist is located opposite of the parcel along Camp Parkway],” commissioner Keith Tennessee said. “Looking at the plan, it’s a very good plan … But the thing about it is, I just don’t think it’s the right location.”

The only commissioner who voted to recommend the approval of the rezoning application was Robert White, though he mentioned that he only did so because the other eight commissioners voted against it.

“We’ve got a problem. We’re in dire straits,” he said. “If we don’t bring commerce and industry to Southampton County, we’re going to have the largest tax increases in the history of the county within the next few years. Land use will probably go away for the farmers, so anybody with agriculture or woodland, your taxes are going to go up five times. If we run away economic development in Southampton County, we’re going to be facing all these problems.”

The rezoning application will now be passed forward to the board of supervisors.

“[The public hearing] is typically at their next scheduled meaning, but this is in the middle of budget season, so I’m not sure when it’s going to be,” said deputy director of community development Beth Lewis. “[If the board of supervisors does not approve the rezoning application,] it will retain its A-2 and R-1 zoning designations.”

If it is considered at the board of supervisors’ next meeting, it will be held on Monday, May 23, at 7 p.m.

Will Holt, attorney for Hampton Roads Development, said he was disappointed with the planning commission’s decision but added, “it was clear that they see the need for a project like this and they understand that it could be a big benefit to our area, but obviously we would have liked to see their vote follow that same logic. The majority of the commissioners commented that the project was well planned.”

Amanda Jarratt, president and CEO of Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc., was equally disheartened by the planning commission’s decision, but remains hopeful that the supervisors will approve the rezoning application.

“Whether or not this application is approved by Southampton County, Franklin Southampton Economic Development Inc. will continue to aggressively market the available real estate for industrial and commercial growth,” she said. “However, we must be realistic about the strengths as well as the limitations of our available real estate. As this application continues to be evaluated, and should it ultimately be approved, it would greatly increase our real estate inventory, as well as our ability to compete for projects considering the Hampton Roads region.”