HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — A Hampton community is saying no to a proposed 63-acre development at the site of a former school for the disabled.

The Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind and Multi-Disabled was open for nearly 100 years before it closed in 2008. The city owns part of the land and is looking to rezone the space. One option is to build two multi-tenant warehouses, but many in the surrounding community say that’s not the way to go.

“It’s an environmental justice issue. You are asking low-income African American, mainly seniors, to bear the burden of any adverse effects that come along with industry,” said Rev. John Kenney of Third Baptist Church.

Kenney has expressed his opposition to rezoning the 63-acre space along Shell Road since day one.

“Would you broach this project or proposal to a community that was not all Black and was not low-income? The response was you could hear rats walk on cotton,” Kenney recalled during a planning commission meeting he attended.

The project proposed by NorthPoint Development would create a 540,000-square-foot and 300,000-square-foot warehouse, which would be known as the Phenix Commerce Center. The center would house four to six tenants between both facilities, and if council approves the space’s rezoning, it would change from residential to light manufacturing.

Representatives from NorthPoint say the space would provide 250 jobs along with a workforce training center that the company would lease to the city of Hampton for $0 a month. The project blueprint also creates a 10-acre park/buffer between the site and surrounding homes.

Kenney tells 10 On Your Side he’s all for developing the vacant land, but not for industry.

“Since the community is already zoned residential, I would like to see residential property developed,” Kenney said.

Kenney would rather see housing or a cultural center built in the community.

“To be able to have some sense of renewed pride in what the community meant with the old school, the hope, the life, the opportunity and allow those things to flourish in the community,” Kenney explained.

The city planning commission voted 4-3 to recommend denying the rezoning proposal during its October meeting after listening to residents’ opposition.

“When I talked to residents who live in this community, not one, I couldn’t find one who could say I agree with this project,” said commissioner Steven Brown.

Mayor Donnie Tuck has told 10 On Your Side that since council has not yet voted on the rezoning, it would be premature to say what the city’s position is. Council amended the community plan in 2017 to reflect that the school no longer exists and has set land-use designations for the future use of the property.

Hampton city council will vote on the rezoning on Nov. 9.