Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Residents opposed to engineering facility moving into Owl’s Creek neighborhood

A rendering of the planned Owl’s Creek industrial building. (Courtesy of the city of Virginia Beach)

VIRGINIA BEACH — A petition that has been circulating Facebook ahead of a Virginia Beach City Council meeting to discuss the redevelopment of a Virginia Beach neighborhood has gained more than 700 signatures as of Tuesday morning.

The petition, titled “Preserve Owls Creek Open Space,” was created about a week ago by neighborhood resident Brandon Keesee, who said he became concerned recently when he heard the city planned to allow a large, “unnamed” company to take over property that once served as the Owl’s Creek Golf Course.

On Tuesday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe revealed which company will be moving into the space.

Global Technical Systems, a Virginia Beach-based engineering company that works with clients internationally, including providing defense and homeland security products in the United States, has agreed to invest $54.7 million into a new storage system on about 30 acres of land located at 373 and 411 S. Birdneck Road.

Virginia Beach owns the land where the company plans to build its new 500,000-square-foot green energy facility. At this location, the company will use a process developed by GTS to store energy “without using any hazardous chemicals,” according to a news release.

“With these new energy storage systems, that are 100 percent environmentally friendly, GTS has created the opportunity to change how the world manages our energy resources,” Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms, Jr. wrote in the release.

GTS will also employ about 1,100 people with average salaries of $74,000. Construction is slated to begin in the spring of 2018 and be done by 2019, according to the release.

As part of attracting GTS to build another location in Virginia Beach, McAuliffe approved a $1.8 million grant from the “Commonwealth’s Opportunity Fund.” He also approved a $3 million performance-based grant, and announced that the company will be allowed to take advantage of a “Major Business Facility Job Tax Credit.”

“GTS models how traditional defense-oriented businesses can step out of their comfort zones and create new technologies with commercial applications that can truly change the world,” McAuliffe wrote in the news release.

Although Keesee isn’t against watching Virginia Beach as a whole develop, the U.S. Navy sailor said he doesn’t want a big facility in his front yard.

Keesee, who’s lived in Virginia Beach for more than 10 years and moved to Owl’s Creek in 2016, said he was originally attracted to the neighborhood because it’s quiet and beautiful with abundant wildlife living in the area that used to be the golf course.

He worries that the facility’s construction will create an intrusive environment and dangerous amounts of traffic for the next 12 to 15 months.

Keesee also worries that the neighborhood wasn’t given enough time to consider the project. The project was on the Virginia Beach Planning Commission agenda during its Nov. 8 meeting but did not include the words “Owl’s Creek” in its written language. Instead, it was referred to by the physical land address.

At that meeting, the planning commission approved the conditional rezoning of the area, which was partially zoned as residential, for an unnamed manufacturer to “revitalize” the property.

“It is unnamed because it is confidential,” Randy Royal, of the Virginia Beach Economic Development Department, said at the meeting. “It’s the governor’s initiative and we’re anticipating him announcing it probably next week or so, but we don’t have a date, but for now that is all I can tell you as far as the developer.”

Royal added that the tax-exempt property is located within the U.S. Navy’s zoning easement, which prohibits certain types of zoning in certain areas; however, the military has reviewed the use of the property and approved the project.

At that meeting, the planning commission approved the conditional rezoning of the area, which pushed the project onto the Dec. 5 city council agenda.

Keesee said he wasn’t informed of the city’s planning commission meeting ahead of time, but he did attend a civic league meeting on Nov. 15 where traffic engineers and members of city government explained the project to residents.

At the planning commission meeting, Royal said that the more than 1,000 workers will be split into three shifts, meaning that everyone working at the facility would not be coming and going at the same time. He added that the city’s traffic engineers do not foresee a need for a light in the area, but that a new right turning lane will need to be installed.

Still, the traffic study the city provided didn’t ease Keesee’s worries and he remains opposed to a large facility in the neighborhood area. Instead, he said he’d like to see the property be turned into a wildlife refuge or a park.

“When the construction is complete the traffic will continue making Birdneck Road unsafe,” he wrote in his description of the petition. “The project will devalue the neighborhood.”

Send news tips to adrienne.m@wydaily.com.

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