PUNGO – A commercial and residential development project that would have changed the face of “downtown” Pungo, the gateway to rural Virginia Beach, is not moving ahead for the foreseeable future.
Harvest Farms, initially called Pungo Ridge, is indefinitely deferred due to issues with plans to deal with stormwater, and one of the developers told The Independent News this past month that he sees no way to resolve issues with the city.
Bill DeSteph, a state senator who formerly served on the Virginia Beach City Council, told the newspaper the project is not able to advance to the Planning Commission following rounds of back and forth with city staff who make a recommendation about approval or denial.
“There was no way forward,” DeSteph said, noting the developers had modified the project and submitted a number of stormwater plans.
“We did not see a path forward,” he added, “where the city would accept any stormwater plan for that site.”
“It’s sort of an indefinite deferral at this point in time with no Planning Commission date scheduled,” Bill Landfair, the city’s planning and evaluation coordinator, said during an interview.
Landfair said the city and developers have corresponded several times over stormwater management issues, and they had been trying to work through them.
“There was no way they were going to approve it no matter what we did,” DeSteph said during a telephone interview.
Harvest Farms was billed as an agrihood, meaning a subdivision that incorporated aspects of farming into its design, though the project has faced scrutiny over what some considered a small agricultural piece and opposition by members of the public and an advisory committee about its density and potential stormwater runoff.
In a recent incarnation, Harvest Farms proposed 116 homes and seven acres of commercial development on 122 acres in two areas split by Princess Anne Road near its intersection with Indian River Road. The properties are the Back Bay Farms site to the west of Princess Anne Road and the old Pungo airfield site to the east. Originally, 164 homes and 16 acres of commercial had been proposed, but the developers redrew their initial plans after input from the advisory group and amid concerns from citizens.
In November, it seemed that the project might head to the Planning Commission, but the applicant sought a deferral. The changes in density brought the plan within guidelines for the transition area between suburban development of the northern city and rural communities south of Indian River Road. However, how the project would handle stormwater had not been finalized.
During an interview, City Councilmember Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District, was hesitant to discuss a project that might have come before the City Council, especially one that had not gone to the Planning Commission yet.
“I’ve been very concerned and watching it and waiting to see what the application would be,” Henley said. “Until it’s a final plan, it could change.”
Melani Moreno, who lives in Pungo, was among the local citizens who were actively trying to stop the project.
“I want to be able to think that it’s a win, but I don’t know that it is,” she said.
Moreno said the area is one of the remaining places to build, and could remain attractive for future development – and she is concerned the city wants revenue.
“I think everyone needs to keep their eyes open and keep educating themselves about conservation,” she said.
On Tuesday, April 9, City Manager Dave Hansen wrote to DeSteph, who had asked the manager to review “circumstances that have led to your project team continuing to receive significant review comments from city staff after six submittals,” according to the letter.
The project would employ two stormwater approaches discharging into different areas because it involves two sites on either side of Princess Anne Road, Hansen wrote. His letter discussed some of the specific issues.
On the east side, some of the old Pungo airfield site would drain into Ashville Park, a community that has dealt with significant drainage issues. An early selling point for Harvest Farms was that it would lessen the burden on Ashville Park.
When the developers lowered the density of the project last year, DeSteph said that was no longer part of its plan. Hansen, in his letter, wrote that the potential impact upon Ashville Park was part of the city’s concerns.
Harvest Farms “must not impact Ashville Park with any additional stormwater burden generated by the eastern side of your project,” Hanson wrote.
Hansen also wrote that plans for the west side of the project, which could impact West Neck Creek, did not have enough information about a level spreader drainage system and potential drainage impacts downstream, as well as an analysis of potential impacts upon flooding along Indian River Road.
The city believed the system proposed by the developer might need permitting with state regulators, as well, Hansen wrote in his letter to DeSteph.
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