LETTER: Time to change — if we want a different outcome

Published 5:21 pm Wednesday, October 11, 2023

To the Editor:

Your Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, edition of The Tidewater News published a notice advertising a public hearing before the Southampton County Planning Commission. The hearing, scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, has been called to allow for public comment on an application that seeks to rezone agricultural land at the southeast junction of Rt. 58 and Rt. 258 in Southampton County. If approved by the planning commission and, ultimately, the board of supervisors, the application would allow for the agricultural designation of the property to be converted for limited industrial use. If approved, the rezoning would pave the way for both the construction of a warehouse and distribution facility at a location that makes sense for the expanding Port of Virginia and the desperately needed increase in tax revenues for Southampton County. 

If supported by citizens of Southampton County, it would also represent a massive shift in the longstanding attitude of county residents who oppose anything that could potentially convert a single row of soybeans to an industrial use that positively impacts our county’s finances. 

As someone who has been involved in this community now for over a quarter century and whose family roots here run deep, I was not surprised by the swift and vocal opposition to this proposed rezoning. The comments I read on social media critical of the proposal were reminiscent of almost every other economic development opportunity this county has opposed in recent years. Ironically, the complaints about the potential industrial development of our agricultural property often come from those who regularly lash out at the lack of resources available to county residents, especially when it comes to the funding of our county schools. 

As a community, we can’t keep complaining about the need for more resources if we are unwilling to do what it takes to provide them. While agriculture has been the backbone of our local economy for generations, it is inarguable that modern agriculture practices support fewer and fewer of the families who live here. Like most industries, farming has been made more efficient through significant advancements to technology and chemistry. Farms require fewer employees, and the wealth generated by farming becomes more concentrated among fewer families. As a result, tax revenues lag what is required to provide public services for our neediest residents: the children whose future will be determined by the quality of education we can provide.

I urge my friends and neighbors to reconsider their position on industrial development in Southampton County. We can’t keep doing what we have always done and expect a different outcome. For the privileged few, historical and expected future outcomes are what most can only dream of. For the rest, something needs to change. Industrial development at the junction of two primary roads doesn’t seem an unreasonable place to start. 

Tony Clark

Southampton County