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Letter: The agricultural reserve program is an established planning tool and a net benefit for Virginia Beach

Dear Editor:

The agricultural reserve program, or ARP, is Virginia Beach’s best idea. It is a mistake to cast this program aside with so little transparency and discussion by reducing it to dollars and cents within the budget. 

The ARP is popular with farmers and citizens all over Virginia Beach. It is unfair to the citizens to eliminate this program without a full understanding of the tradeoffs between current and future benefits and future consequences.

The budget process does not provide an effective forum for debating the pros and cons of this important program. As a vital part of the comprehensive plan strategy for growth adopted by City Council in 2016, any changes to the ARP program should include the voices of the community in a more in-depth discussion. 

As a former land use planner for Virginia Beach for over 25 years, I have seen this city grow exponentially. The burden of infrastructure and facility construction and maintenance have grown right along with the new houses, new shops, shiny office buildings and hotels. 

The suburban nature of Virginia Beach means hundreds of miles of pipe, hundreds of miles of pavement and hundreds of storm water ponds and other water control features. When housing developments are new, they can spur additional commercial and office development, bring new residents and add a lot to the tax base. At some point, though, the cost to construct and maintain infrastructure to support the level of service the residents have come to expect will likely strain the resources of a municipality. 

The ARP was developed as a planning tool to help Virginia Beach reduce that strain on resources and to provide the desired level of residential development along with good levels of service city-wide.  It has worked successfully for the past twenty-five years. The amount of money that is provided for this program is many times less than what would be needed if suburban growth were allowed in southern Virginia Beach. 

One of the reasons stated for the elimination of this program is that the storm water drainage constraints are too severe to accommodate much new residential development. Anyone who drives through southern Chesapeake or northern Currituck County can attest to the fact that poor drainage has not hindered new residential development much. 

Preserving the rural character of Pungo and beyond has enabled the integrity of the ecologically significant North Landing River and Back Bay watersheds to remain pristine. Large wetland and flat field areas can absorb flooding. Even if these floodplain areas are regulated, the change in surface drainage patterns caused by new pockets of housing developments can reduce the effectiveness of natural floodplain control. 

The ARP program is a net benefit to the city. The agricultural industry in southern Virginia Beach is just as robust today as it was 25 years ago. Agriculture is an important part of our heritage and our future. 

— Barbara Duke, Birchwood Gardens


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The Independent News

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