‘The Grove’ at Western Branch gets initial OK from planning commission

Chesapeake

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WAVY) — A group of political appointees has allowed plans to build a warehouse, brewery and hundreds of housing units in Western Branch move forward — even after city staff recommended against it.

The Chesapeake Planning Commission voted 8-0 late Wednesday night to approve the rezoning of 428 acres at the southwest corner of Portsmouth Boulevard and Jolliff Road, where Kotarides Development plans to build “The Grove.” Joshua Gerloff abstained, citing a conflict of interest. 

The majority of the developed property is slated for 824 housing units in the form of single-family homes, townhomes, apartments, condominiums and senior living facilities. 

However, the possibility that excited commissioners the most was the potential for a 1.5 million square foot warehouse that could lure in 500 to 2,000 jobs. 

“While we cannot publicly discuss the names of potential users…we are confident that we will see a significant investment that will be made in western branch,” said Grady Palmer to the commission,as an attorney representing Kotarides.

He went onto say there is potential for a $75 million to $150 million investment from the mystery company.

However, a company that was named for the first time was Back Bay’s Farmhouse Brewing Company. They currently own the land and would open up another 10,000 square foot micro-brewery on the property. 

The project plays into a large vision named “Destination Western Branch,” in which Chesapeake Square Mall would also be revitalized. Kotarides purchased the Mall last year for $12.9 million and have said the future calls for more of a “town center” model with more entertainment and dining options. 

“We are very excited about the unanimous vote tonight at planning commission,” said Pete Alex Kotarides, a manager with the Virginia Beach-based development company. “We think the Grove will create great synergy with the (Chesapeake Square Mall) and really energize Western Branch.”

Wednesday’s vote came with a big catch for the developer — no home occupancy until the fall of 2022.

Going into the meeting, a 20-page planning staff report recommended the planning commission deny the rezoning request, citing reasons including “inadequate public school facilities.” 

The report identified that the rezoning would add an estimated 62 students to an already overcrowded Edwin W. Chittum Elementary School. While plans are in the works to construct an addition to the school, according to the planning department, it would not be complete until 2021-2022.

“The Planning and Land Use Policy requires capital projects that increase capacity to be complete within one year of the approval of the rezoning application to be considered as a mitigating factor,” wrote planning administrator Jimmy McNamara in the report.

The commissioners ultimately decided the developers’ 2022 compromise was sufficient.

Commissioner Mark Steiner said, “I am willing to support this motion, but that puts us and the city on the hook to get the schools completed by 2022.” 

Several residents also spoke in front of the body, both supporting and expressing concerns about the project.

An underlying message from those on both sides was the desire to not see another project fall through. 

“I am hoping that it will come true like we have been told,” said Commissioner Marty Williams. He went onto mention that the warehouse property will revert back to the city if nothing is built in five years.

“We will be watching to make sure you do your part,” Williams added before the vote.

Palmer stated the warehouse portion of the project would be tackled first. He said there is reason for an excellerated schedule in order to win a big economic development oppertunity. 

Chesapeake City Council has to sign off next. While it is not known how the nine member body will vote, a majority of members have recieved campaign contributions from Kotarides Developers in the past according to the Virginia Public Access Project. 

Mayor Rick West has accepted $2,350 in cash from the builders since first being elected to council. Council members Dr. Ella Ward, Dwight Parker, Susan Vitale and Matt Hamel all reporting recieving $1,000 each from the developer in the last election cycle.

Council plans to vote on the rezoning May 21.

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