Agriculture: With advisory committee support, Henley to explore reserve program approach in transition area — and farming research

Flooding in Sherwood Lakes is seen in this October file photograph taken in the wake of Hurricane Matthew. [The Princess Anne Independent News]

COURTHOUSE – Virginia Beach may consider whether the agricultural reserve program, which preserves farmland by purchasing development rights, can be used to address drainage issues in the transition area between the city’s suburban north and rural south. 

The idea has been discussed by the agriculture and planning staff members, City Agriculture Director David Trimmer said in an interview on Tuesday, Jan. 31. And City Councilmember Barbara Henley addressed the matter on Monday, Jan. 30, during a meeting of the Agricultural Advisory Commission with the aim of further discussing the idea with the City Council.

Following recent storms, she noted, there’s growing interest in addressing stormwater and drainage, as well as issues such as sea level rise. Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District, is a farmer. 

Henley also discussed her desire to include agricultural research that directly applies to the sorts of soils and conditions in the city’s southern reaches on part of the city-owned property within the Interfacility Traffic Area, an overlay zoning district known by the acronym ITA.

Though the location and size of such an area has not been identified specifically, it would be on part of the acreage in the area that already is zoned for agricultural uses. Development in that area is limited due to jet traffic between Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach and Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress in Chesapeake. Virginia Beach has acquired a sizeable acreage, including land that is slated for the biomedical park initiative.

The city plan governing the ITA is undergoing a revision, and a draft written by a consultant is anticipated in March. Henley, in meetings with constituents and interviews, has urged public participation in the process due to the opportunity to help shape the area’s future.

Three members of the Agricultural Advisory Commission – Diane Horsley, the acting chairperson, and John Cromwell and Arnold Dawley — voted in support of Henley discussing both ideas further. Members Billy Vaughan and Bart Frye were absent from the meeting, which had been rescheduled due to inclement weather earlier in January.

Applying the reserve program to the transition area, where developable properties may be allowed densities of up to one unit per acre, might address a couple of issues, according to the discussion during the meeting.

This might be an option for property owners to limit development in an area that has seen significant drainage issues in places such as the Ashville Park and Sherwood Lakes subdivisions. 

During an interview on Tuesday, Jan. 31, Virginia Beach Public Works Director Phil Davenport said preliminary estimates suggest it may cost about $55 million to address issues in those neighborhoods, both of which are in the transition area.

“That’s a very, very rough estimate,” Davenport said, adding that the city hopes to have better numbers later this month or in March.

Using the reserve program might face challenges, such as political support, interest among property owners and greater values for development rights due to the potential densities owners can pursue in the area. Henley said identifying the proper values would be an important matter, too. 

“These properties will command a little more than what we’ve been paying for ARP properties,” Henley said during the meeting. In an interview later, she noted that some properties in the transition area have been enrolled in the program in the past. Revisiting this might address issues “because it’s becoming more and more apparent that area has obstacles with drainage.”

Henley said she hopes to discuss the idea during the City Council’s retreat, scheduled from Monday-Tuesday, Feb. 13-14, in the economic development conference room, 4525 Main Street, Suite 700, at Town Center.

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