VIRGINIA BEACH – Members of the public met in recent weeks with developers of Harvest Farms, a mixed-use subdivision that could significantly change the Pungo area by bringing new housing and commerce to areas near the rural village’s crossroads.
The subdivision, formerly called Pungo Ridge, is proposed for two properties – Back Bay Farms and the old airfield – near the intersection of Princess Anne and Indian River roads and on opposite sides of Princess Anne Road. The project has drawn concern for being too dense for the area and inconsistent with guidelines for the city’s transition area between the suburban north and rural south.
As proposed, it could bring 164 homes on about 122 acres to a rural hub that is considered the gateway to southern Virginia Beach, and there could be several new commercial parcels along Princess Anne Road.
About 60 members of the public gathered at the Princess Anne Recreation Center on Thursday, July 19, to learn more about the plan. A second meeting was held on Wednesday, July 25, also at the recreation center.
The first presentation to the public was similar to a Thursday, July 5, meeting of the Transition Area/Interfacility Traffic Area Citizens Advisory Committee, with the developers giving an overview of the concept, design guidelines, recreational resources and explaining the “agrihood” concept. They took questions, though the hourlong meeting ended before some were answered.
Laura Zito, project coordinator for a development team that includes state Sen. Bill DeSteph, discussed the neighborhood, which would build around an “agrihood” concept that incorporates an existing horse barn and a 4.5 acre farmed area into the development.
“A lot of times, these neighborhoods are just focused on residences, and they’re not utilizing the open space,” she said. Harvest Farms would have farming, farm-to-table and educational components and fit in with the historic character of Pungo, she said.
The team also discussed drainage issues in the area, with DeSteph explaining how removing much of the existing impervious surface on the airport property side and rerouting water that now drains into Ashville Park would help that neighborhood. DeSteph, noting concerns about flooding in the area, said Harvest Farms would include a stormwater system built to far surpass standards. And DeSteph said the development would not add to flooding concerns along Indian River Road.
“This is not an insignificant amount of water that goes into Ashville Park,” he said. Helping the neighboring subdivision is part of how developers have suggested a housing density that exceeds the recommended maximum of one unit per acre in transition area guidelines.
The transition area advisory committee last month raised concerns about that density, among other concerns, and the group is poised to recommend against approvals for the project in a forthcoming letter to the Planning Commission and City Council. Harvest Farms, as presented, has a density of about 1.5 units per acre.
“Density has been a very big issue for us,” Zito noted during the first meeting with the public.
“We really did look at the transition area guidelines when we created this community,” she added.
Some in the audience expressed skepticism about aspects of the project and whether plans could change, as they have in other developments.
“I’ve been here 20 years,” said Veronica Guagenti, a Lago Mar resident. “It never goes the way you people promise.”
Tom Baker, a farmer, asked about the number of horses that would be at the barn and whether there was sufficient land for grazing.
“Where would the horses graze?” Baker asked. “And where is the farmland?”
Zito said they had not settled on a number of acres of pasture. The farmland in initial plans would be on the Back Bay Farms side of the development. About 4.5 acres would be overseen by an organic gardener.
Brad Wynne of Veg Out Gardens in Chesapeake would be involved in designing and operating the agriculture elements.
Ramona Austin of Pungo asked about how the developers would ensure activities would be sustained as years pass and the interests of homeowners change.
“In 10 years, is he still going to be planting out there?” Austin asked.
In an interview following the meeting, Rick Seaman of Creeds said the density for the project was high, but he hoped the city and developer could work something out to lower it.
“I don’t want it, but I respect what he’s doing,” Seaman said. “It will help Ashville Park.”
Much of the discussion focused upon stormwater, but that and density are not the only issues facing the development.
The transition area advisory committee, following its meeting with developers in July, sought a revised plan that met guidance for the area.
Robert Davis, a city planner, sent a letter to the developers summarizing concerns from the meeting on behalf of the committee. The committee did not support the plan “as presented due to its incompatibility with the comprehensive plan and the transition area design guidelines,” he wrote.
Suggestions included revision of the plan to meet recommended densities that can be earned in the transition area and recommended lot sizes “and a tapering of density to provide a true shift in density from Sandbridge Road to Indian River Road.”
The committee also suggested revisiting plans for commercial areas of the plan, including the zoning sought and the amount of area that would be commercial.
“The committee suggested the applicant work with staff in the revision of this plan and that it be presented to the committee at its next meeting,” Davis wrote.
Following the meeting with the public, at which the plan seemed the same, it was uncertain whether the developers would make changes. “We’re still working on that,” Zito said during an interview. The developers did not attend the committee meeting on Thursday, Aug. 2, and Zito did not respond to a phone call this past week.
The project may go before the Planning Commission in September.
Previous coverage of Harvest Farms can be found at this link. Additionally coverage of the project will appear in the Friday, Aug. 17, edition of The Independent News.
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