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Development’s size is sticking point

Adding more than 1,100 new homes to Smithfield will adversely affect the town’s charm and character and further strain community infrastructure such as roads, schools and public safety services that are already stretched by ongoing residential development, according to community residents.

After hearing from members of the public for more than two hours, Smithfield’s planning commission decided to delay a decision on the Mallory Scott Farm project until the group can convene for a follow up public work session. Officials did not immediately set or announce the date of the work session at the group’s Oct. 13 meeting.

As currently proposed, the development, which would be located near the intersection of Nike Park Road and Battery Park Road, would include single-family, duplex, four-plex and 10-plex homes. Amenities and infrastructure would include pedestrian paths, sidewalks, two clubhouses, two swimming pools, public water and sewer and existing roadway improvements.

All of the proposed residential units would be for sale. The development will not be age-restricted, and it will be privately regulated and maintained by an owners’ association. Prices for detached, single-family homes would start at around $300,000.

Kelly Hengler said she’s concerned about one aspect in particular surrounding the project: health care. “Where is the hospital in Isle of Wight County? This is not an adversarial conversation. This is a reality check.”

Michael Jahncke, who lives across the marsh from the proposed development, expressed concern about the additional traffic and potential environmental impact of the development. “This density proposed is not appropriate for the marsh and creek,” he said. “This marsh and creek is a fragile environment.”

Instead of the proposed density of 2.85 single family homes per acre, along the marsh, Jahncke suggested a less dense plan of 1 home per acre on property that is directly adjacent to the buffer zone and marsh, and that the homes are further set back from the buffer.

Most members of the public who spoke opposed the project.

Virginia Soule said she and her husband moved to Smithfield about five years ago “and we just love it.” But she suggested approving a development that is closer in size to what officials OK’d around 2005 — about 250 new homes. Plans to build a smaller development were stalled about a decade ago due to the 2008 Great Recession.

“This new number is over 400% over what was approved in 2005,” Soule said. “That’s ridiculous.”

Others spoke of having their home burglarized elsewhere in Hampton Roads and choosing to live in Smithfield because it’s a smaller, safer community. Some commenters also maintained that promised infrastructure upgrades tied to new developments never seem to catch up to what’s actually built.

John Napolitano, senior vice president of Virginia Beach-based Napolitano Homes, addressed the concerns about the development’s size head-on before and after the public took the podium in a meeting room at the Smithfield Center, where about 100 masked people gathered for the meeting.

“Let’s address the elephant in the room: 1,106 homes. At first glance, that is a lot,” Napolitano said. “However if you break that down to the next 10, 15 possibly 20 years it’ll take to fully develop this property …and take into account the number of [certificates of occupancy], we’re limiting ourselves to that is only a growth rate of 1.4% or less. That’s a very reasonable growth rate for a county or city or town.”

Asked how he could address the community’s concerns about the project’s size, Napolitano said in a follow up email, “that is a difficult question to answer.”

“The number of homes is large in the minds of the residents, but is it large in regard to the future growth of the town? Smithfield cannot get a hospital or VDOT upgrades to the roads because they do not have the population growth that meets the needs,” Napolitano said. “This community provides an opportunity to have orderly managed growth in the form of a master planned community.”

John Settle, Smithfield’s planning director, said town policy is that the planning commission has until Dec. 17 to make a decision on this project’s application before it is automatically forwarded to town council with a recommendation for approval.

“Isle of Wight, in developers’ eyes, is a target,” commission member Charles Bryan said. “The Southside has been built out, the Peninsula has been built out, so naturally developers are looking for open land and we’re less developed than some surrounding areas. So that’s what we are — we’re a target.” Bryan continued, saying “the main thing that concerns me is I think this is the biggest developmental application this town has received.”

Town council member Randy Pack, who also serves as the planning commission chairman, suggested it was appropriate to delay the decision making process. At the same time, Pack added, the commission and the community should not dismiss the project out of hand. “If you find somebody that you can work with, that can bring responsible development to our community, I think we’d be remiss not to try and work with them,” he said.