Rountree urges pause on new housing developments

Published 7:47 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2024

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Newly elected Isle of Wight County Supervisor Renee Rountree, at the board’s Jan. 4 reorganizational meeting, called for delaying the approval of any new housing developments until a proposed “growth management” task force reports back with data on the county’s capacity to absorb the influx of new residents.

Isle of Wight, already the seventh fastest-growing county in Virginia according to census data, saw seven rezoning applications for new and expanded subdivisions in 2023 that collectively would add over 1,900 new houses to the county’s northern end. Another 2,200 new homes spread across eight developments approved prior to 2023 could break ground any day.

“Jointly we have residential projects currently on the books, some dating back to more than a decade,” Rountree said. “They represent more than 3,000 housing units.”

Isle of Wight County Schools projects more than 1,000 new students will enter the school division upon the buildout of five developments already under construction and another six that, as of December, had received rezoning approval.

Traffic studies submitted with rezoning applications for the proposed 317-home Gwaltney Farms, 615-home Sweetgrass and 35-home Kemps Village developments show the three would collectively add just over 9,600 daily vehicular trips to Isle of Wight County’s roads.

Gwaltney and Sweetgrass, both slated for Benns Church Boulevard, would together increase the average 24,000 cars per day traversing the intersection of Benns Church and Brewers Neck boulevards by up to 38% based on 2021 counts, while Kemps Village would increase the 2017-observed 16,000 average daily vehicular trips on Carrollton Boulevard by only 2%.

The Grange at 10Main, a 267-home mixed-use development Smithfield’s Town Council approved in December for 57 acres at the western edge of the town’s historic district, is projected to add another roughly 4,700 cars. The influx of vehicles, based on 2017-observed average daily traffic on Main and Grace streets where entrances to the Grange are proposed, could increase traffic on Main by up to 60% if all 4,700 used that entrance, and would more than double the daily traffic on Grace if 100% of the influx used the Grace access. A traffic study submitted with Luter’s rezoning application, as of last April, estimated only 15% to 25% of the Grange traffic would use the development’s Main Street access and only 2% to 5% would use its Grace or Cary street connectors.

“We are fortunate that our past growth has been to the benefit of our citizens, however, if our county and town governing bodies are truly interested in managing the enviable growth to come we need a comprehensive and managed growth strategy before moving forward,” Rountree said.

Rountree’s proposal calls for a 10-member task force composed of one supervisor, one council member from each town, one unelected representative from each of the county’s five voting districts and two at-large members from the county’s northern end.

The group’s mission, Rountree said, would be to create a comprehensive list of “costs, needs, benefits and the impacts of growth within the county.” She’s proposing the group present a first draft of its report in September.

Rountree is further urging her fellow supervisors and her former colleagues on Smithfield’s Town Council to impose an effective moratorium on subdivision rezoning approvals in the nine-month interim. Rountree told The Smithfield Times that upon discussing her idea with County Attorney Bobby Jones, she learned Isle of Wight can’t legally outright refuse to act on a rezoning application but does have the discretion to delay scheduling the public hearings that state laws mandate must precede any approval vote.

Rountree, during her prior three years on Smithfield’s Town Council, voted to approve the 267-home Grange at 10Main mixed-use development slated for 57 acres at the west edge of Smithfield’s historic district and the 812-home Mallory Pointe subdivision slated for the 500-acre former Mallory Scott Farm off Battery Park Road. Her write-in opponent for the Smithfield-centric District 1 supervisor seat, Chris Torre, portrayed Rountree as a pro-growth candidate, but Rountree said that “perception” was “not the truth.”

Rountree’s task force proposal drew support, but no formal vote to establish the group, from District 2 Supervisor William McCarty and skepticism from District 3 Supervisor Rudolph Jefferson.

“School infrastructure is not necessarily the most daunting thing; it’s our traffic,” McCarty said.

Jefferson said his issue with the explosive growth Isle of Wight has seen over the past few years isn’t so much with the number of houses as the type and the price at which they’re being sold.

“We need affordable housing, but we don’t need a house that costs $500,000,” Jefferson said.

Virginia Beach-based developer John Mamoudis, who in 2020 secured rezoning approval from Smithfield’s Town Council for a 150-unit condominium development off Battery Park Road he’d dubbed “The Park at Battery,” proposed filling Smithfield’s dearth of affordable housing units by pricing the units at $190,000 and up. Suffolk-based Quality Homes Inc., which is now looking to take over the project, in 2023 proposed swapping Mamoudis’ 15 multifamily buildings for 130 detached houses priced at $350,000 and up. 

The Grange, which received rezoning approval in December, is proposed to be among the county’s highest-priced new developments, with duplex homes starting at $615,000 and detached homes starting at $685,000.

Rountree hopes to again discuss her proposal at the supervisors’ Jan. 18 meeting.