Wegmans zoning change gets green light from planning commission

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The Newport News Planning Commission has recommended that city council rezone land near the airport, to allow for a Wegmans grocery store to be built.

The commissioners voted on two parts to the project Wednesday night during a meeting that lasted more than four hours. The commission approved an amendment to the comprehensive plan that would designate the land as commercial. The commission also voted to change the zoning of the land at Jefferson Avenue and Brick Kiln Boulevard from light industrial to commercial retail.

Both the amendment and change of zoning passed 5 to 4. Commissioner Mark Mulvaney voted against the zoning and amendment change.

“The more we take away the available lands, the green space that makes it beautiful, and we start to make this city a traffic nightmare,” said Mulvaney.

He added later in his statement, “We truly hurt this city and what this city can become.”

Commissioner Elizabeth Willis voted in favor of the changes, saying she was taking into consideration all the residents of Newport News.

“I don’t think traffic is the major issue that should be in making this determination,” said Willis. “I think it’s the welfare of all of the citizens in Newport News that should be considered.”

The property in question is part of Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. The Peninsula Airport Commission requested the change in zoning. Project and city officials said Wednesday night the airport would lease the land to the developer, who plans to put a Wegmans in as the anchor store.

Executive Director of the airport, Ken Spirito, spoke at the commission meeting.

“There are very few developments that I know of, since I’ve been here in seven years, that have come with their feet forward like this developer, with the improvements to make a more qualitative project,” said Spirito.Development’s attorney, Tim Trant, said Wegmans could bring an estimated 500 new jobs and could be built by spring or summer 2018, if the plan goes through. Trant and Newport News’ Director of Engineering, Everett Skipper, said Wednesday the development would call traffic changes in the area around the airport.

Trant and Skipper both said the changes would improve congestion.

The main issues that divided both commissioners and residents at the meeting, was how the development would affect traffic and whether it was worth it to develop the current green space.

“The last thing that we need is another grocery store, whether it be high end or not,” said one resident.

19 residents spoke during the public hearing, most of whom live in the Kiln Creek area of the city where the grocery store would be built. Every resident who spoke said they did not want to see the shopping center put in the area near the airport.

“The city would have to be a magician in order to improve that traffic with putting the new place in there,” said another woman who spoke at the meeting. “And what’s wrong with having a little bit of green space? What’s the problem?”

The final decision on the land will come from Newport News City Council.

City council will hold a public hearing and vote on the issue at the April 26 meeting.

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