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There’s a plan to ease flooding in Ashville Park, but uncertainty remains about possible development nearby

Flooding in Ashville Park is seen in this image from October. The city has recommended an approach toward alleviating flooding problems in the subdivision near Pungo. If the plan is supported by the city council, costs would be shared with developers who want to continue building in the subdivision. [File/The Princess Anne Independent News]

BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE

COURTHOUSE — The city staff has recommended an approach toward addressing flooding problems in the Ashville Park neighborhood near Pungo that would begin to correct problems in the drainage system there and lead to continued development of the subdivision, which has three planned “villages” left to complete.

Deputy City Manager Tom Leahy and C.J. Bodnar, an engineer in public works, on Tuesday, July 18, briefed the city council on recommendations from a study of the neighborhood completed earlier this year. Leahy also discussed a potential development, including nearby land at the old Pungo airfield site, that could affect Ashville Park – and according to its developers, help flooding issues – though no formal plans exist for that project. 

That development, which at one point was called Pungo Ridge, has been the subject of discussion in the community partially due to recent media coverage.

The situation at Ashville Park, following years of flooding issues, is one of a neighborhood with problems in a drainage system designed through a previous developer, according to the city.

“The entire system from almost beginning to end was inadequate,” said Leahy, the deputy city manager who oversees infrastructure issues. “The pipes were inadequate. The lakes were inadequate. The outfalls were inadequate. The receiving waters were inadequate.”

Ashville Park was rezoned for a subdivision in 2005 with a plan for five villages, according to a timeline provided by the city. An initial village was built, but the original developer went into foreclosure when the housing bubble burst. The city took over the stormwater system in 2007 and 2008. California-based HomeFed Corporation took over the remaining undeveloped part of the project in 2012, leading to the construction of Ranier Village. 

The stormwater system already was in place at Ashville Park Boulevard, according to the city timeline, and issues became apparent late that year. Flooding recurred over the next few years, with the city initiating a study months before Tropical Storm Julia and Hurricane Matthew caused severe flooding in the neighborhood this past year.

Future development would be in the hands of HomeFed, but it has been on hold due to flooding in the areas that are built.

Leahy said HomeFed, which wants to develop the next village, would contribute to the initial phase of a recommended fix. The city would pay $5.8 million for an initial phase with HomeFed contributing $2.4 million.

The alternative recommended by city staff could ultimately costs about $23.5 million, but that does not include some aspects of making the fixes, such as land acquisition.

“The neighborhood and the developer both indicate a desire to continue with the development as long as there are no adverse impacts to the stormwater system in the existing village,” Leahy’s presentation noted.

During the meeting, Leahy also addressed a possible development of roughly 120 acres at Back Bay Farms and part of the old Pungo airfield site. The Independent News on Friday, July 7, first reported that such a development has been discussed, though no formal plans have been submitted to the city.

It would be a mixed-use development on either side of Princess Anne Road near the crossing of Indian River and Princess Anne roads, the heart of Pungo and an area considered a gateway to the city’s rural southern communities.

The development, referred to as Pungo Ridge though that name is no longer in use by the developers, involves Bill DeSteph, a state senator who served on the city council. DeSteph told The Independent News the development could be designed to help address drainage issues in Ashville Park. Property on the Pungo airfield side of Princess Anne Road is adjacent to and, according to the city, partially drains through Ashville Park.

One of the developers, William E. Terry of Oceanside Building LLC, in June wrote to the city. The Independent News received a copy the correspondence through a Freedom of Information Act Request.

“We believe there is an opportunity to partner with the city of Virginia Beach on this development and significantly reduce the storm water flooding problem,” Terry wrote.

He proposed a drainage system that would run through what is built on the east side, meaning part of the old airfield, but reroute water beneath Princess Anne Road through Back Bay Farms “changing the flow of the water from the Back Bay watershed to the North Landing River watershed.” 

The project also would reduce the amount of impervious surface on the airfield side, he wrote. He offered to study easing flooding at Ashville Park through the development at the airfield, and proposed sharing costs with the city for such a study.

City Manager Dave Hansen, in an earlier letter addressed to DeSteph, wrote that the city would need to review and validate the developer’s study before considering a cost participation plan.  

Leahy noted the information involving the possible development is preliminary based upon “informal discussions,” and there has been no commitment by the city to the idea.

“There’s been nothing put down on paper,” he said during an interview. “Most importantly, there’s been no engineering modeling.”

Leahy told the city council during the briefing that drainage from the airfield property to Ashville Park is restricted by a single pipe. A city model of the airfield’s drainage through Ashville Park showed that this stormwater’s removal would mean a “small, but not insignificant” difference. Still, it would not solve issues in Ashville Park alone.

Following the meeting with the city council, he said there was not yet any clear direction, and more conversations with city staff and council members would have to follow. City officials were working to establishing a date for the initial meeting as this edition went to press. The developers of the so-called Pungo Ridge project also have promised to have a dialogue with the community when their plans are futher along.

As The Independent News reported, an advisory committee for the city’s transition area has urged the city to consider potential development in that area all together rather than piece by piece. The city is also working on a detailed study of the southern watershed, among others in the city.

City Councilmember Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District, has advocated waiting for detailed mapping of the watershed before considering projects.

This map of the proposed development that was called Pungo Ridge, a name developers said they are no longer using, shows a concept to carry some stormwater that would drain through Ashville Park through the east parcel, which is part of the old Pungo airfield, through the west parcel, which is now Back Bay Farms. This map is not necessarily how the development would look, and no formal plans have been submitted to the city. [Via City of Virginia Beach]


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The Independent News

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