Read the Virginia Beach city manager’s memorandum about ending the city’s farmland preservation program

Ed. — The following includes most of the letter Virginia Beach City Manager Dave Hansen wrote to Mayor Will Sessoms and members of the Virginia Beach City Council on Friday, March 23. It has been edited for style and clarity, and a detailed budgetary comparison about the idea is not included below. Click on this link to read the full letter and see that supporting information.


COURTHOUSE — The purpose of the agricultural reserve program, or ARP, is to purchase development rights so as to preserve and protect the agricultural industry and rich rural heritage of southern Virginia Beach. The ARP is a voluntary program that provides landowners an opportunity to capitalize on the development potential of their farmland without having to sell it.

Much has changed since May 9, 1995, when the City of Virginia Beach enacted the Agricultural Lands Preservation Ordinance and the Virginia Beach Agricultural Reserve Program. More than 9,700 acres have been enrolled in the ARP, acquiring 858 development rights at a cost of $46.1 million.

Unfortunately, something else has changed as well – sea level rise and recurrent flooding. The ability of developers to acquire agricultural land for constructing residential and commercial projects is no longer feasible. With the advent of sea level rise and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s recent report on the anticipated impacts by 2050, the intent and purpose of the ARP is no longer valid.

As part of our FY19 budget preparation, we have come to realize it is critically important for the future economic vitality of our city that we increase our investment in designing and constructing solutions that will counter the impacts of sea level rise and recurrent flooding. Coupling this with the heightened attention that Wall Street rating agencies are now putting on the financial commitment of cities and towns, we must prioritize where we are dedicating public funds to our most important needs.

During our preparation for the upcoming budget, we looked at myriad dedications which the City Council has created over the years and, because the threat to replacing agricultural land with residential development no longer exists, it is logical to consider redirecting those funds to our new number one threat.

I realize this is a dramatic and controversial change to a longstanding program. With the ever increasing elevation projections that sea level rise is expected to deliver to Virginia Beach, we must take extraordinary actions to dedicate necessary resources to combat this enemy. In this year’s budget, I am recommending we terminate the agricultural reserve program and rededicate those funds to provide almost $75 million over the next 15 years to flood control and storm water projects throughout the city. We will reserve sufficient funding of the current ARP dedication to fund acquisitions approved to date and the costs for administration are to be moved to the general fund.

[Ed. – The full memo includes additional supporting information about the proposal, and exhibits include a map showing city watersheds. Again, these are not reproduced here but are at the link.]

The final exhibit is a map of the southern watershed reflecting the Dewberry planning projection of a 1.5 foot rise in sea level expected over the next 50 years in a 100 year storm event. Two years ago we thought this was a reasonable estimate as it was promulgated by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science in its original study. Unfortunately, their recently released update now indicates sea level rise will occur quicker and be higher than their original projection.

The purpose of the annual budget process is to balance our projected revenues with our resourcing needs. Emerging issues are prioritized with our existing programs, and tough decisions must be made. Terminating the ARP and rededicating it to combating sea level rise and recurring flooding is one of the most difficult recommendations I have had to make in my dozen years here with the city.

The recommended action will not reduce our department of agriculture’s full support of the agriculture industry and our farming community.

© 2018 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC


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