COURTHOUSE – Members of an advisory committee for projects within the transition area between the Virginia Beach’s suburban north and the rural south balked at plans for an “agrihood” project that could change the face of Pungo, asking the developers to come back with revisions next month.
As presented, the members said, the mixed-use plan was too dense, too inconsistent with city guidelines for the area and too out of character for the Pungo “village” that is considered the gateway to southern Virginia Beach rural areas and farmlands.
The development team for Harvest Farms — formerly called Pungo Ridge and referred to as Harvest Farm in some records — presented initial plans for the subdivision during a meeting of the Transition Area/Interfacility Traffic Area Citizens Advisory Committee on Thursday, July 5.
Harvest Farms would be built within the city’s transition area, in which limited development is allowed south of the Green Line, a city services boundary, and rural reaches south of Indian River Road.
A site plan filed with planning officials earlier this year shows a subdivision that might grow on either side of Princess Anne Road immediately north of the Pungo light at Indian River Road. It shows a housing density greater than other developments nearby, such as Ashville Park – so much so that committee members repeated concerns about density during discussions with the developers.
“The application far exceeds the guidelines, so are you suggesting that we abandon guidelines for the transition area?” Linwood Branch, the committee chairperson, said at one point during the meeting on July 5.
Guidelines for the transition area suggest densities of no greater than one unit per acre of developable land, and committee members have said the point of the transition area is that densities actually transition from north to south, meaning less dense at the south.
Overall, 164 units are sought on about 122 acres, and the project includes roughly 16 acres of commercial properties, generally along Princess Anne Road. The housing density shown on the site plan is about 1.5 units per acre. [Click here to review a site plan provided to the city planning department.]
City Councilmember Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District, said she had a number of concerns about the development as it was presented. Henley, who created the committee to let locals weigh in on projects at an early stage, said the public should get involved as Harvest Farms continues.
“It’s just not compatible with Pungo,” Henley said during an interview following the meeting. “The whole transition area is to transition, not bring something smack up to the edge. It’s just a very suburban, dense neighborhood plopped down right on top of Pungo. It would just divide the old village.”
During the meeting, members of the committee expressed concern that the development was not consistent with the city’s comprehensive land use plan or specific recommendations for the transition area.
Some members also asked about zoning and potential uses for commercial properties within the plan.
It was unclear how the development would directly compliment to the existing village. The developers hope to connect amenities such as trails and paths to neighboring systems, such as the one in Ashville Park.
“We will not be connecting to them because we do not own the land,” Laura Zito, project coordinator for Harvest Farms, said regarding the Pungo village area nearby. “We are connecting with the area that is already accessible.”
Zito said natural connections might be made between Harvest Farms and Ashville Park. Indian River Road, especially in peak traffic times, is a dividing line between the commercial section that might develop in the subdivision and the existing shops and businesses south of the road, in terms of walkability.
Zito said developers hope to attract boutique restaurants, such as ones that offer farm-to-table dining, and businesses consistent with the character of the village. She and Bill Terry, president of Oceanside Building, said the developers were seeking greater residential density, in part, due to efforts the development will undertake to reroute stormwater in an area of the airfield side of the project that drains into Ashville Park, which has experienced significant flooding issues.
“There is something on the other side that we’re giving as a builder,” Zito said. “We are looking at trying to help the impact of the water flow that is going into — it is a clear fact that it is driving directly into Ashville Park. I feel like there is a balance. You have to give a bit.”
Diana Hicks, a member of the committee from Lago Mar, said that argument as a means of supporting density was troubling, considering transition area developments that were given density bonuses yet developed issues that now are being remedied by taxpayers.
“I understand it is a sensitive subject,” Zito said. “We’re not saying that we’re right and you’re wrong. It is open for discussion here.”
The developers took issue with the notion that density led to flooding issues, rather than the engineering of drainage systems.
“It’s more the idea that there should be a tradeoff of the guidelines,” said Dr. Karen Beardslee Kwasny, who represents the Princess Anne District on the Planning Commission and is a member of the committee.
Kwasny said there should not be an expectation by developers that doing something beneficial means the city will loosen carefully-crafted guidelines in exchange.
Over the past year, city officials, too, have discussed whether some relief for Ashville Park is worth concessions for Harvest Farms.
Recently, City Councilman Bobby Dyer, who represents the Centerville District, asked about the project during a work session at City Hall. The question came while Deputy City Manager Tom Leahy gave a presentation about fixing flooding problems in Ashville Park. Dyer asked about the development using its former name, Pungo Ridge.
“The Pungo Ridge project down here,” Leahy said, pointing it out on a map. He said that the plan is presently not well defined, but part of the airfield portion flows through a pipe into Ashville Park and “there would be some small, incremental improvements” if that stormwater was redirected. “It’s not staggering, but it’s not insignificant, either,” Leahy said.
“Whether it’s called Pungo Ridge or Harvest Farm, you’ve got a lot of other things to consider besides that,” he added.
During the July 5 committee meeting, Zito said, “We’re trying to talk and be open about what we’re doing. We don’t want to upset you guys. … I know you are not big development people. We understand that. We really do want to do something great here.” She noted that change is inevitable, asking, “Where are we going to grow as a city?”
Branch returned to the distance between what guidelines seek and what developers presented. He suggested that if the City Council wants to change the transition area to be a more dense place, it should change the guidelines.
“Our request is to see an application that actually meets the guidelines,” Branch said.
City staff is preparing a letter for the committee that will express concerns that the development is not compatible with the comprehensive plan or transition area guidelines. In addition to concern about the number of residential units sought, the letter may also ask for the plan to revise planned zoning for commercial property and residential lot sizes. The next committee meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., Thursday, Aug. 2, at Building 19 at the municipal center.
Kwasny has recommended the developers should engage the community in and around Pungo about plans. Two community meetings are scheduled, Kwasny announced via social media, so the developer can speak with the public. The meetings are at 6:30 p.m., on Thursday, July 19, and Wednesday, July 25, at Princess Anne Recreation Center, 1400 Nimmo Parkway.
Henley in an interview said southern Virginia Beach is not the area for Virginia Beach to put its development. She said studies of sea level rise and recurrent flooding concerns in the area will bear that out.
The Urban Land Institute, a nonprofit research organization, defines agrihoods as “single-family, multifamily or mixed-use communities built with a working farm as a focus.” Realtor Magazine, published by the National Association of Realtors, has identified examples of residential development “organized around consumers’ desires for fresh, local food” around the nation. Features range from large working farms to edible landscaping.
“There are approximately 200 of them across the U.S.,” Zito said, noting that the has been studying the concept, which she called a growing trend, for the past two years. Harvest Farms is in keeping with the heritage of the area of Pungo and, as an agrihood, will have an eye on sustainability, she noted.
“I think the concept is growing because we as a society are so busy and we’ve gotten away from the yesteryear of communities,” she said.
“We centered it around agriculture,” she added, “which is so big in this area … This is the gateway into Pungo, and this is something that is very unique and special.”
A summary filed with the city planning department shows the farming portion of Harvest Farms, roughly west of the residential development planned on the Back Bay Farms side, would be a 4.5 acre farming operation using “organic, no-till practices … to promote greater soil health.”
Henley, who is a farmer, noted that the area where they want to put the small production area has not been cultivated before, and this could be a challenge for them.
In addition to producing crops, there would be an educational component to the farming operations, and buffer areas of the property would be used for additional agricultural purposes. Classes on topics such as beekeeping and garden pests would be offered throughout the year. Zito said an existing horse barn on the Back Bay Farms side would be preserved.
Brad Wynne of Veg Out Gardens, a Chesapeake-based organic growing company that also designs and installs gardens, would be involved in designing and operating the agriculture elements of Harvest Farms.
During the meeting, the development team also said he may be involved in a farm stand on one of the commercial properties. That would involve goods from local producers and farmers.
Zito said amenities in the neighborhood could include orchards, greenhouses and gardens. According to the summary, residents will be part of a community supported agriculture program, or CSA, offering a weekly supply of items grown in the neighborhood garden. Edible landscaping is in the plans throughout the subdivision.
“We’re trying to provide the community with good, healthy, natural food for everyone,” Wynne said during the meeting. He said farming efforts might start out with a small acreage and grow as the neighborhood develops. One focus of his effort in the subdivision would be soil health, he said, and residents would be encouraged to see how the farm works.
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