After delaying a vote for a month, City Council voted 5-3 to allow the rezoning of 540-acre property off of U.S. 460 that would bring with it 4.7 million square feet of development with 10 warehouses and five commercial retail buildings.
Mayor Mike Duman, along with Councilmen Roger Fawcett, Lue Ward, LeOtis Williams and Donald Goldberg, voted in favor of the rezoning, with Tim Johnson, Shelley Butler Barlow and Vice Mayor Leroy Bennett voting against it.
The property will be rezoned from general commercial and agricultural to heavy industrial zoning (M-2) for a property that also borders U.S. 58 and Pitchkettle, Kings Fork and Murphys Mill roads.
Fawcett made the motion to approve the rezoning, and Ward seconded it.
Duman, who spoke for more than 45 minutes about what led to his decision to vote in favor of the rezoning, said there have been many factors to take into consideration when making a decision on whether to support the rezoning. He called it the most impactful land-use issue he’s dealt with since he began serving on city council in 2011.
Johnson, who has opposed the project, said the project may be good for the region, but it would not be good for residents and the city.
“The whole thing boils down to location, location, location,” Johnson said. “And this is not the location for an M-2 development.”
Butler Barlow, who also voted against the rezoning, said that council needs to listen to what the people are saying, and while acknowledging some merits to the project, “I just think that we’re not ready for a project of this magnitude.”
Proponents, including project developers Matan Companies and the Port of Virginia, have cited the economic benefits of jobs and money to the city’s economy, something opponents have disputed.
Opponents, who have galvanized since details of the project became public in June, have argued that the project will bring dramatic increases in traffic, especially with trucks, and the roads cannot handle it without massive and costly road improvements. They have also cited concerns about the environment, preserving the city’s way of life and have argued that there are other locations in the city better suited for such a project than property that is primarily used for agricultural purposes.
Public Works Director Robert Lewis presented traffic data from 2021 indicating 43,056 vehicles and 5,238 trucks on U.S. 58 daily. He said using the regional travel demand model, it projects the total vehicles in 2045 at 51,002, a 7,946 vehicle increase, and a total truck volume of 7,700, for an increase of 2,462 trucks.
On U.S. 460, as of 2021, there were 24,187 vehicles using the road daily and 2,469 trucks. As of 2045, the projection is for 29,064 vehicles, an increase of 4,877 vehicles, and 4,700 trucks, for an increase of 2,231.
Lewis said it would cost about $8.4 million for engineering design for road improvements from the U.S. 58/460 interchange to Lake Prince Road. The Matan Companies would contribute $6.6 million, while the Port of Virginia’s board has voted to provide $1 million from its Port Opportunity Fund, which requires a $1 million city match. If approved, survey work, Lewis said, would begin in November.
The road work, which he estimated at more than $86.7 million, would include a diverging diamond interchange at U.S. 58/460, a six-lane divided roadway past Kings Fork Road, and a four-lane divided roadway to Lake Prince Drive.
Mayor Mike Duman said in a Facebook Live ahead of the vote that if it were up to him, he would have preferred to table the proposed rezoning again, but he didn’t believe others on council and those who support and are against the project wanted that.
Some publicly had called for Councilman Donald Goldberg to recuse himself from voting on the project, citing what they believe to be a conflict of interest due to the company he works for, Harvey Lindsay Commercial Real Estate, representing adjacent property owners who opponents believe could stand to benefit from the rezoning approval.
However, Goldberg has publicly denied that he has any conflicts of interest, and he again said Tuesday in a phone interview with the Suffolk News-Herald that he felt comfortable casting any votes on the rezoning after receiving three separate legal opinions — one from city attorney William Hutchings, another from the state’s Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council and yet another from a private attorney.
Hutchings said via email that he was not permitted to discuss “whether our client asked for advice, what they asked, or what advice was given” to Goldberg, citing the Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct.
Goldberg said he was not able to share the correspondence between himself and the state’s Conflict of Interest and Ethics Advisory Council.
“It’s privileged information from what they tell me,” Goldberg said. “I can’t give it out, but I can assure you from what they told me that I am good to go on this. This is from the city attorney, the (advisory council), and I’ve even gone further and I’ve talked to a private attorney just to make sure I’m on solid ground to vote on this.”
However, he reiterated, as he has said publicly, that he had no association with the 20 acre property off of U.S. 460 near the proposed site. On the Harvey Lindsay website, Ryan King and Robert King are listed as representing the owner of the property.
“I have never had any association with that property,” Goldberg said. Goldberg said it’s a family piece of property that’s part of an estate, and it has been that way since 2007, when it was purchased.
“I talked to the city attorney, told him what I do, what my job is and my relationship with the company,” Goldberg said. “And that’s what you have to do. You have to let them know. You tell them everything about what you do and how it works, and so on. That’s what you do, and so that’s what I did.”
Goldberg, before the discussion on the rezoning began, read from a statement, saying that “I may have a personal interest in this transaction … due to the fact of my employment, that the owners of the company for which I work may have a personal interest in real estate that is adjacent to the Williams property. As there is a group of three or more that will be affected in the same manner about this transaction, and because I am able to participate fairly, objectively and in the public interest, I will participate in this transaction provided for in Virginia Code Sec. 2.2-3112-B1.”
That code section states that: “An officer or employee of any state or local government or advisory agency who has a personal interest in a transaction may participate in the transaction:
“1. If he is a member of a business, profession, occupation, or group of three or more persons the members of which are affected by the transaction, and he complies with the declaration requirements of subsection F of § 2.2-3114 or subsection H of § 2.2-3115.”
“Sometimes what’s right for the city is listening to the people,” Johnson said.