Bacon's Rebellion

A Small Victory – So Far – for Common Sense and Flood Mitigation in Virginia Beach

The central Great Neck Corridor drainage system Virginia Beach

by James C. Sherlock

Sometimes things work. Perhaps they will this time.

There was a time in Virginia Beach when a partnership between a developer and a church to build new houses would have breezed through the Planning Commission and the City Council.

That kind of open season on clearing and building on Virginia Beach’s very low-lying land brought with it lots of problems, including flooding.

The citizens of Virginia Beach, tired of flooding in every heavy rain and even under a clear sky with a full moon, a couple of years ago passed a very large property tax increase on themselves to create a huge pot of money to deal with it.

One of the natural flood control systems already in place is a series of contiguous lakes along Great Neck Road in the eastern part of the city. They handle runoff from that major corridor. That system flows into the Lynnhaven River and the Chesapeake Bay.

To that place comes a developer and a local church with a proposal.

The church owns land on which sits one of those lakes, Lake Conrad 2. You can see in the overhead imagery view below that the lake dominates the two parcels to the north (left in the picture below) of the church which are the land proposed for rezoning, sale and development.

The property has been zoned for religious use and untaxed for 60 years, representing a huge city investment in the property in forgone tax revenue.

The church has now applied for the two parcels containing the lake to be rezoned residential for subsequent sale to the developer.

The developer then plans to fill in Lake Conrad 2 to build additional homes and offers no mitigation of the filling in of the “water feature” on the site. Note from the overhead shot above that the lake is a natural feature, not a construction borrow pit.

That drainage for runoff from the building and parking lot was likely what allowed the church to be built in the first place.



The planning commission staff somehow, in its positive recommendation on the church’s rezoning application, found that the proposal complied with the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

The Comprehensive Plan identifies this site as being located within the Suburban Area. The general planning principles for the Suburban Area focus on creating and maintaining great neighborhoods through stability and sustainability; protecting and enhancing open spaces….

Achieving these goals requires that all land use activities either maintain or enhance the existing neighborhood through compatibility with surroundings, quality and attractiveness of site and buildings, improved mobility, environmental responsibility, livability, and effective buffering with respect to type, size, intensity, and relationship to the surrounding uses.

The proposal to subdivide the parcel would not create any conflicts with the Comprehensive Plan. [emphasis added].

The site photos accompanying the church’s proposal do not show Lake Conrad 2. It must have been an oversight.

The church rezoning request is not independent of the agreement with the developer. The developer’s site plan is a sine qua non of the entire deal. And he has admitted (above) that he cannot avoid filling in the lake for the “financial viability” of the project. A look at the overhead view shows why.

The Zoning Commission, with due consideration of the recommendation of its staff, rejected it and denied the application.

Planning Commission action is not a final determination regarding the application, but only a recommendation to the City Council of the viewpoint of the Planning Commission.

A petition opposing the rezoning is gathering thousands of signatures, including mine.

Bottom Line. The City Council has been dominated by real estate interests for literally as long as I can remember. The realty firm involved for the church as well as the developer itself are two of the real power brokers in this city.

But I am cautiously hopeful that this time the City Council will vote to confirm the Planning Commission decision and deny the permit.

The vote is on September 19th.

Updated Sept 1 to eliminate discussion of Corps of Engineers interest due to a recent Supreme Court decision.

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