Supervisors’ vote was an opportunity lost

Published 9:41 am Wednesday, July 27, 2016

To the Editor:
The coverage of the Board of Supervisors vote on July 5 to approve a rezoning of 438 acres on Camp Parkway ably reported the result but did not, and could not, capture the anguish of all of those citizens in attendance who came to the realization that their government wasn’t listening. After five hours of citizens voicing their concerns, thoughts and sharing facts, it only took 45 seconds to take a vote … without any discussion or reasoning providing for each vote. Indeed they walked out around midnight, convinced their elected leaders could care less about the value of their property, their families’ safety, quality of life and the character of the community we all call home.

Most of us in the Franklin Southampton Citizens Alliance for Sustainable Communities believe the purported “commerce center” the Norfolk attorney glowingly described will never be constructed because it is too far from the ports it is designed to serve. It will certainly not lead to reduced taxes, as some proponents predicted, nor will it end the flight of young people to larger localities.

If the jobs the developer and his co-promoters in the economic development alliance claim will materialize ever do, they will not be the ones that lure sons and daughters back to Southampton County. As Linda Simmons correctly stated, “my child is not coming home to work on a forklift.”

We are not against hope, but what we all heard July 5 was false hope: that prosperity is just around the corner, when in reality this was simply government picking winners: a Hampton Roads developer who had made a bad investment; and losers, the church members, homeowners, school parents and farmers who trusted the county to maintain the agricultural and residential status they promised them a dozen years earlier. The Planning Commission, which earlier turned the rezoning down 8-1, got it.

The Board of Supervisors, looking at the same set of facts, overturned that sound judgment 6-1; and they did so without a word of explanation. This was a complete affront to the hundreds of men, women and children, on both sides of the debate, who gave up five hours of their evening … not to mention countless hours over the last year and half, researching the facts, reading the documents and trying to get out the information to the community.

It’s defining because what the board did by its action was remind everyone that their neighborhoods are not safe from random rezonings that can and will threaten the value of their investment. Who will buy an existing house or build a new one on Camp Parkway when a noisy warehouse complex could sprout up at any time? How do you alleviate the concerns of parents who fear their children will be victims of an accident involving a hurried trucker and a yellow school bus heading to or away from Riverdale Elementary?

The fact that the School Board chair could speak in favor was not just surprising, it was disheartening. It was also hurtful to hear supporters tell us to make sacrifices for the economic benefit of Southampton County when they would likely be on the other side if it were their properties in the crosshairs.

When the paper mill was thriving, so was our region. Those jobs are gone and increasingly automated warehouses, if they ever arrive, will not replace them. Instead, we need to collectively take a hard look at how communities like ours can attract and keep good residents and quality employers. Agrihoods and other progressive models that offer amenities and attractions that create sustainable communities exist.

Warehouse parks, which are lightly occupied or failing up and down Route 58, are not the answer. A decade from now, when Mr. Fiscella is still waiting for occupants and our employment rate is no better, everyone will look back on July 5 as an opportunity lost.

Dr. Aurelius W. Brantley