Developer offers Chesapeake land for new school at no cost, but city planners push back

Chesapeake

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) – Kotarides Development wants to give the city of Chesapeake 20 acres of land for no cost to build a new elementary school, but city planners are saying “no deal.”

City council will get the final say Tuesday night regarding the land where Portsmouth Boulevard meets Jolliff Landing Parkway in Western Branch and if it will be dedicated to the city.

The property, which is valued at $4.2 million, was approved for use as an “Office and Promenade District” by council in 2017 as part of the Jolliff Landing Development that included the construction of up to 361 single-family homes and a mixture of office and retail with a pedestrian-friendly promenade.

Under the original plan, six acres of land were going to be given to the city for the development of a field house, according to Grady Palmer, an attorney representing Kotarides. Those plans fell through.

“A lot has changed since plans first went through,” Palmer told the Chesapeake Planning Commission in July.

Much of it has changed rather recently. In 2018, Kotarides purchased the struggling Chesapeake Square Mall for $12.9 million and have announced plans to revive the retail center with a “town center” model with more entertainment and dining options. 

This past May, council gave the OK to move forward with plans and build a 1.5 million square foot warehouse, a brewery and 824 housing units as part of “The Grove” development.

The latter went against the wishes of city planning staffers who found that there were “inadequate public school facilities” for such a development. To help get the project through, Kotarides agreed to have no home occupancy until the fall of 2022 to allow for the expansion of an already overcrowded Edwin W. Chittum Elementary School.

Discussions originally centered around Chittum about relocating to the site, according to Palmer. While that won’t occur, the site is “continued to be desired by the schools for a future elementary school site.”

In a letter from Chesapeake Public Schools, the New Construction and Planning Department administrator indicated that both Western Branch Primary and Intermediate schools were over the capacity and an additional elementary school in the area would likely be needed.

“I think it will be good for the city,” said Pete Kotarides, a manager with the Virginia Beach-based development company. “In our discussion, it became clear that school overcrowding was an issue and since we a have a suitable property, we though we’d offer it up.”

The planning commission voted 5-2 to deny the plan on Thursday principally because they still want what they additionally approved.

“The area has this designation because of its strategic location on a major arterial, which is in close proximity to the interstate, and creates value as an economic development site,” said Mark Hobbs, a city planner.

Palmer reiterated that Kotarides is looking at the project as a part of its large vision named “Destination Western Branch,” proposal and that economic development is still very much a factor.

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