Monday, May 23, 2022

Virginia Beach schools division explores multifamily housing on its property, worrying neighbors

Virginia Beach City Public Schools document, from a report presented by Dale R. Holt Chief Operations Officer for Division Services
Virginia Beach City Public Schools document, from a report presented by Dale R. Holt
Chief Operations Officer for Division Services

The Virginia Beach School District has explored building multifamily housing for teachers and public safety workers on land it owns near Witchduck Road and Independence Boulevard, prompting concerns from nearby residents.

School officials said they explored the housing idea for its 18-acre property on Jericho Road only conceptually and that no plan is in place to pursue it. The land houses the Bayside Sixth Grade campus.

City staff and the Virginia Beach Community Development Corporation drafted designs late last year that envisioned multifamily homes that would be dedicated to firefighters, teachers and police officers, according to a school district report.

Tony Arnold, the school division’s director of facilities, planning and construction, said there is no intention for the vision to come to fruition any time soon.

“The ideas that you see were just the result of my staff — our facility folks — and the city’s neighborhood housing folks just kicking around ideas,” Arnold said. “We don’t have any plans to remove the sixth graders out of the old Aragona school. So they’re going to be in there for the foreseeable future.”

Lauren Nolasco, director of communications for the school district, said the drafts were created to understand what the concept would look like and are not a part of any current plans.

“It was kind of them working to visualize what it could look like,” she said. “It’s not something that’s taking place any time soon.”

The results of that work were presented in a November meeting with Virginia Beach City Public Schools senior staff. The concept included about 150 two- or three-story homes with an average unit size of 1,000 square feet, and about 300 parking spaces.

Arnold said the idea was spurred after the city had learned of similar housing developments in other areas.

“Our enrollment has declined for a really long time across the city,” he said. “As your enrollment declines, and you start to realize I have too many assets, you may have properties that down the road might get re-purposed for something else.”

Cost estimates for such a project are unknown, Arnold said.

Aragona Village Civic League members have launched a petition to prohibit the residential development of the land. They have collected more than 600 signatures.

League President Lorraine Samko put the neighbors’ reasons for opposition in a letter to school division officials, including School Board Chairman Dan Edwards. The concerns include the worry that a denser housing development would decrease property values in the area. The civic league also opposes using the land for commercial development because it was donated to the school district by the late developer John Aragona.

Vice Mayor Louis Jones said Wednesday he believes the dedicated land is strictly for public use.

“I’m not going to be in favor of turning public property into a housing development,” Jones said. “It would have to come before City Council to get permission, and that’s just not going to happen.”

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