Amid community concern, developers redraw ‘agrihood’ plans, lowering residential density, commercial

Ed. — This story originally ran in the Friday, Oct. 26, print edition.


VIRGINIA BEACH — The developers of Harvest Farms resubmitted plans for an “agrihood” near downtown Pungo in October after an initial proposal faced criticism from locals and advisory bodies to the city – and likely recommendations that city officials should turn down a rezoning request for the project.

The new vision for the agrihood – essentially a subdivision that incorporates some agricultural elements into its design – has fewer homes and less commercial space, according to a site concept and an interview with Bill DeSteph, a state senator who is one of the developers. 

DeSteph said he hopes the revised plan will satisfy concerns about the initial plan as being inconsistent with city guidelines for developments within the transition area, meant as a buffer between the suburban north of the city and the rural areas south of Indian River Road. The new plan complies with the transition area plan, he said.

Harvest Farms involves properties near Indian River and Princess Anne roads, Back Bay Farms west of Princess Anne Road and the old Pungo airfield to the east of the corridor. You can see the revised plan at this link.

The project is scheduled to go to the Virginia Beach Planning Commission in November, but DeSteph said it is unlikely the team will again bring its plans before the city’s Transition Area/Interfacility Traffic Area Citizens Advisory Committee. The advisory body reviews projects within the transition area and between Naval Air Station Oceana and Naval Air Landing Facility Fentress in Chesapeake. [Ed. — The developers did not return to the commission, which has recommended denial.]

The committee in July asked Harvest Farms developers to return with a plan that meets guidelines and the city comprehensive plan, and it was poised to oppose Harvest Farms in August because the developers had not done so. However, the committee held off on its recommendation because the developers began to revise plans.

Harvest Farms now seems to meet a key threshold of one unit of housing per acre of developable land within the transition area. Initially, it was at about 1.5 units per acre. Harvest Farms is scheduled to go before the Planning Commission on Wednesday, Nov. 14.

“There is no requirement that they go back before the transition area committee,” said Jimmy McNamara, a city planner.

Linwood Branch, chairperson of the committee, could not be reached for comment. Dr. Karen Beardslee Kwasny, who represents the Princess Anne District on the Planning Commission and is a liaison to the committee, said the committee may convene before the Planning Commision meeting.

“We are pressing for a meeting anyway so we can review the application and take a vote,” Kwasny said on Thursday, Oct. 25. She added, “Right now, we have vulnerable land, and we need to be very careful going forward.”

Via email, Councilmember Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District and has expressed concern about the project, said she has not seen the new plan but will give it careful consideration. A staff recommendation was released on Thursday, Nov. 8. Read more about that recommendation at this link.

Harvest Farms, formerly called Pungo Ridge, initially proposed 164 homes on about 122 acres, and about 16 acres of commercial development. A revised plan submitted to the city shows fewer than 7 acres of commercial property, with commercial properties removed from the east side of Princess Anne Road, and the number of homes reduced to 116 overall. Sixty-five homes are proposed for the Back Bay Farms side of the development, and 51 homes are proposed on the airfield side.

DeSteph said an earlier selling point of the initial proposal – that the community would be built to alleviate flooding in nearby Ashville Park – is no longer part of the plan.

“We are going to handle our stormwater on site,” he said, but reducing density means an anticipated cost to help Ashville Park is not feasible.

© 2018 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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