VIRGINIA BEACH — City Council voted unanimously to deny the development of a neighborhood on 12 acres of land in the Pungo area of Virginia Beach.
Argos Properties, the real estate development company that owns the land, wanted to build 32 single-family homes there. The property is on the north side of Princess Anne Road near Fenwick Way and commonly referred to as “Holland Swamp.”
During public hearings on the development, several residents said they viewed Tuesday’s vote as a significant moment in the city’s greater fight against sea level rise and flooding issues, and the vote could indicate City Council’s trajectory on future developments and rezoning decisions.
The Argos property abuts West Neck Creek and floods frequently said residents, some of whom lobbied council and their fellow residents to push the city to deny the land’s rezoning. Just before Tuesday’s vote, those residents showed up to council chambers to comment on the proposed development.
Joe Brown, who said he was representing his parents who live close to the ARGOS property, spoke in opposition to the rezoning at Tuesday’s meeting.
“A swamp is not appropriate for residential development.”
He went on to describe how his parents and other residents along Princess Anne Road already deal with flooding issues after moderate rainstorms.
“This flooding impedes the passing of emergency vehicles” and blocks the entrances to people’s properties, “making for a dangerous situation,” Brown said.
Attorneys for the ARGOS development suggested that home sales contracts for the proposed neighborhood could include a “buyer beware” clause regarding the potential for flooding. That idea did not sit well with Brown and other opponents to the development.
“I don’t in any way shape or form think that ‘buyer beware’ is a responsible development proposal,” Brown said.
Another speaker during the meeting, Rona Marsh, raised the notion with City Council that building homes on land with known flooding issues could damage the city’s image.
“Is that really what we want to be known for; that we sell property ‘buyer beware?'” said Marsh, as she held a large photo of flooding at the ARGOS property entrance on Princess Anne Road. “Is that our reputation? The ‘world’s greatest city,’ but the property we sell is ‘buyer beware?'”
“Is that what our new standard is going to be?” said Virginia Beach resident Reid Greenmun, who also gave public comment Tuesday before the vote. “It’s an embarrassment.”
Greenmun continued: “1,400 homes in Virginia Beach flooded during Hurricane Matthew; why would we develop an area of the city that already has known flooding issues? It doesn’t make any sense.”
The vote came weeks after two planning groups for the city came to different conclusions on whether to allow the zoning change needed to move forward; the planning commission rejected the proposed change because of flooding and stormwater concerns, but the city’s department of planning approved the zoning change because Argos was not required to account for future sea-level rise, which is what concerned the planning commission.
Council member John Moss said the disagreement between the planning department and commission highlighted the differing objectives and challenges that face city planning in relation to flooding concerns.
Council member Barbara Henley wanted to deny the rezoning during council’s April 3 meeting and Mayor Will Sessoms, Vice-Mayor Louis Jones and fellow council members Moss and Jessica Abbott, voted with Henley. However, a split vote resulted, and the issue was pushed back two weeks, until Tuesday’s meeting.
Henley — who represents the Princess Anne district where the Argos property is located — said the parcel of land is described as “Holland Swamp” in the city’s deed of records. She grew up in Virginia Beach and her family owns “Henley’s Farm” in Pungo, and recalled seeing “water up around all of the houses” along Princess Anne decades ago during typical storms.
Henley said the developers calculations and engineering attempts to handle future flood issues wasn’t enough to persuade her vote.
“It’s very hard for me to forget what I’ve seen,” Henley said, “and pretend that this area may not flood if it’s developed. I just can’t get to that point.”