Hampton City Council will vote Wednesday on whether to approve a controversial project that would see developers turn the site of a former school for deaf, blind and disabled students into industrial warehouses.

The $94 million Shell Road project was a source of concern for neighboring owners, who fear that the warehouses will bring traffic, noise and pollution. Many also believe that the site should be used for residential or educational purposes, not for industrial purposes.

While developers have tried in recent months to assure residents that such fears were unwarranted, opposition remains strong.

“They want one thing, the almighty dollar,” Hampton resident Joan Weaver said at a recent Planning Commission meeting.

NorthPoint, a Kansas-based commercial real estate developer, wants to buy 40 acres of land that runs along Shell Road and is owned by the Hampton Economic Development Authority, as good as a 23-acre section of land adjacent to the town previously sold to another company. The 63 acres once housed the Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind and Multi-Disabled – which existed for nearly 100 years before closing in 2008.

NorthPoint hopes to build two multi-tenant warehouses – one 540,000 square feet and one 300,000 square feet.

To accomplish this, NorthPoint must rezone the land to allow for light manufacturing use. The Planning Commission voted narrowly 4 to 3 in October to recommend denying the rezoning application, mainly due to the backlash it received. However, the decision will come back to the city council this week.

Reverend John Kenney of the Third Baptist Church, a church serving many families who live near the proposed project, says the voices of the predominantly black community are being ignored. While Kenney is glad the commission recommended against the project, he fears the council will vote differently. He said it is a principle of “lives against money”.

“I personally don’t think this council is going to be as concerned about the negative impact on people as the Planning Commission was,” Kenney told the Daily Press. “Tragically, it comes down to the dollar.”

Hampton resident Ursula Barkers told a recent town meeting that the project would “add salt to the still-open wounds of racism and inequality experienced and experienced by too many people in this community.”

Marc Gloyeske, vice president of development at NorthPoint, tried to allay residents’ concerns. At the October 20 Planning Commission meeting, he said the semi-trailers would not cross Shell Road as many had feared. Instead, access to the site would be primarily via Aberdeen Road, with Shell Road being an emergency-only access point to the site.

Gloyeske also said the company would add large berms and heavy landscaping around the site to reduce the impact on views from neighboring properties. He also said NorthPoint would add a sound barrier to the northeast side of the property to reduce noise impact. The south side would be have a buffer zone of 10 acres between the site and neighboring houses. NorthPoint officials said they do not expect noise, light or air pollution levels to negatively impact surrounding properties.

NorthPoint also touted several economic benefits for the city, including the creation of 200 temporary construction jobs and 250 permanent jobs. The company will also build a 5,600 square foot workforce training center on site, complete with furniture and computers.

Hampton EDA Director Chuck Rigney said the training center would be operated by the EDA and would be used to train Hampton residents for all types of careers, including careers that have nothing to do with industrial warehouses.

Rigney also said the NorthPoint project would bring about $1.1 million in annual tax revenue to the city. He added that the Port of Virginia, Huntington Ingalls and the Department of Defense have expressed interest in the site as a potential warehouse assembly and distribution location.

“There couldn’t be a better company” to put into an industrial development of this nature, Rigney told the Daily Press. “I really think Hampton was lucky that a company of the caliber of NorthPoint wanted to invest $94 million of its money in our city.”

At the Planning Commission meeting, several Hampton and Newport News residents expressed support for the project because of the tax revenue and jobs it would bring to the city. However, a majority of these speakers did not live near the project.

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Logan Beck, a Hampton resident, recent graduate and construction worker, said he would like to see the project come to fruition so that young people like him can be trained and progress in their careers. Additionally, he said he would like to start a family and stay in Hampton.

But, he said, if the project doesn’t happen and more jobs don’t come to the area, “we’ll start leaving Hampton to go to where the jobs are.”

Norfolk resident Lang Williams said it was difficult to get people to agree on the best use of a 60+ acre property, but said: ‘I work in commercial property brokerage and rental industrial. And based on the economy, I really believe this is the best opportunity for the city in the region, for fiscal investment and job creation.

The public hearing and city council vote on the matter will take place Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at 22 Lincoln Street.

Aaron Weaver – who has consistently voiced strong opposition to the project at various city council meetings – said that even if council votes to approve the project, he won’t stop showing up to meetings to protest it.

“We’re still not going to stop until this is stopped,” Weaver said. “Because this community really feels like our lives are on the line here.”

Josh Janey, [email protected]

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