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City staff recommends denial of ‘agrihood’ in Pungo because stormwater info is not in; developer says it needs city data first

The old Pungo airfield property is east of Princess Anne Road. [The Princess Anne Independent News]

BY JOHN-HENRY DOUCETTE

COURTHOUSE – The city staff has recommended denial of a rezoning request that would clear the way for a subdivision on either side of Princess Anne Road in the heart of Pungo because developers have not submitted enough information about how they will handle stormwater at the proposed “agrihood” known as Harvest Farms.

Planning officials released a staff report about the project on Thursday, Nov. 8. Harvest Farms, formerly known as Pungo Ridge, would develop Back Bay Farms west of Princess Anne Road and the old Pungo airfield to the corridor’s east.

The plan recently was revised after public outcry, reducing the number of homes to 116 overall and with about 7 acres of commercial development west of Princess Anne Road. [See the revised plan at this link.]

Initially, 164 homes on 122 acres were planned, with 16 acres of commercial. The housing density exceeded guidelines for the transition area between suburban and rural areas of Virginia Beach.

Still, the project would significantly change the heart of Pungo, considered a gateway to rural communities in the southern reaches of the city. It is scheduled to be heard by the Virginia Beach Planning Commission on Wednesday, Nov. 14, which would factor the staff report and other information into its recommendation to the City Council.

Bill DeSteph, a state senator and former member of the City Council, is among the developers operating as Pungo Property, LLC. In an interview, DeSteph on Thursday, Nov. 8, said the development team has not completed its stormwater analysis because it is still waiting on data from the city.

“If we get that before we go to planning, we’ll turn it around quickly,” DeSteph said. “If not, we may need to defer 30 days.”

The city provided The Independent News with email correspondence related to the data after the newspaper asked for it.

On Wednesday, Oct. 31, city Interim Development Services Leader Carrie Bookholt wrote to the developer that the data was in the works and apologized that it had taken longer to provide than anticipated. However, Bookholt wrote that the lack of the specific data should not hold up submitting the stormwater analysis.

The city staff notes that the revised land-use plan does not raise the same issues as the earlier version. DeSteph said the staff recommendation could change once the stormwater data is available and that aspect is resubmitted. “We’ve made significant changes based upon input from the community,” he said.

“We feel this hits a substantial number of the transition area guidelines in terms of land use,” Jimmy McNamara, a city planner, said on Thursday, Nov. 8, while briefing members of the Planning Commission during a site tour.

This summer, a committee that reviews projects within the transition area and between Naval Air Station Oceana and Naval Air Landing Facility Fentress raised concerns about initial plans because they were not consistent with guidelines in the transition area.

The Transition Area/Interfacility Traffic Area Citizens Advisory Committee asked the developers to return with a plan that complied. The developers revised the plan, but they did not return it  to the committee, which met earlier this month and unanimously approved a letter to the City Council that recommends the project be denied.

The letter said the city awaits results of a study about sea level rise and flooding, which would affect land use, and rezoning agricultural land that “buffers the rural area” should not be permitted until recommendations from the study are in.

The letter also notes issues with flooding near the proposed development, which has been a source of community concern, and that “significant adjustments” should be made to transition area guidelines and the city’s comprehensive land-use plan.

“The community vehemently opposes any consideration by the City that would further enable or allow rezoning for development in this vulnerable area of Virginia Beach,” it says.

Earlier this year, the Joint Review Process Group, which includes city staff and representatives from Oceana, evaluated the initial Harvest Farms proposal, finding it too dense for the transition area and compared to neighboring communities.

However, McNamara told Planning Commission members that assessment has changed due to the revised plan. He spoke during a tour of the site on Thursday, Nov. 8.

He told them staff did not yet have an accepted stormwater plan, the reason for the recommended denial of the rezoning request.

“At this point in time,” he said, “they have told us they want to proceed with what they have.”

City Councilmember Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District and has expressed concern about the project, declined to discuss the staff recommendation because the matter would come before the council after it is heard by the Planning Commission.

“I feel strongly that the transition area committee’s review holds sway, and there’s good reason to be hesitant about approving anything in this area right now,” said Dr. Karen Beardslee Kwasny, who represents the district on the Planning Commission, during an interview.

While touring the site of the proposed agrihood, she noted public opposition continues and citizens plan to attend the commission meeting.

“We’re going to have a large contingent of residents,” Kwasny told her colleagues.

“Don’t make any dinner plans next Wednesday,” quipped Michael Inman, an at-large member of the commission.


© 2018 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

The Independent News

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