DeSteph scraps Pungo development plans, warns against ‘unrealistic’ stormwater regulations

Virginia Beach

City leaders propose strengthening regulations on developers

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va (WAVY) — Sen. Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) says he and his partners have scrapped plans to develop land in Pungo as “we did not see any avenue that the city would approve our stormwater plan.”

DeSteph’s latest proposal would have built 116 new homes and four commercial parcels on a little over 122 acres in “Downtown Pungo,” according to documents from the Virginia Beach Planning Department. The parcels (one of which was the former Pungo Airfield) sit on both sides of Princess Anne Road just north of Indian River Road.

Dubbed “Harvest Farms,” the homeowners’ association would have contracted with a local farmer to oversee farming on some of the site. 

In November, the Virginia Beach Planning Department recommended the planning commission deny the zoning change, “due to an incomplete Preliminary Stormwater Analysis.”

The move was cheered by opponents to the project which feared increased flooding in an area where taxpayers are currently funding improvements due to failed stormwater infrastructure.

DeSteph and his team requested a deferral to do more work but never came before the commission.

“We would change our engineering. We would re-engineer it to stricter, stricter, stricter standards. We came down to where we could handle back-to-back 100-year storms. That’s more than necessary down [in Pungo],” DeSteph said. “You can’t set the standards so high that they are unachievable.”

The city public works department is currently pushing to update its design standards in order to include more stringent requirements for developers to meet.

Tom Leahy, the city’s deputy city manager, said, “(Regulations) would help people prevent flooding now, and would prevent developers and property owners from developing in a way that would make things worse going forward.”

Flooding is the hot topic in the city.

Results of a $4 million dollar study to have a better idea of how much sea level rise to expect, how the city could fight back, and how much it would cost, are currently being finalized.

Dewberry, the company commissioned to conduct the study, estimates based on scientific models that Virginia Beach should plan for about a foot and a half of sea level rise by 2050, and three feet by 2080.

Leahy explained future development would have to allow for climate change under the proposed policy update. It would require the developer to use city stormwater models to model their proposed project.

“The policies and procedures we have to adopt would raise the finished floor elevation higher, make the difference between the finished floor elevation and the roadbed greater than it is now,” Leahy said. “Had that been in place. A lot of the flooding that occurred in Ashville Park and Sherwood lakes would not have occurred.”

Laehy was not prepared to comment on DeSteph’s project.

“We believe what we are doing is best practices and has to be done if the city is going to be a vibrant city moving forward,” Leahy said.

However, DeSteph slightly disagrees.

“Absolutely it will discourage people to build in the city,” DeSteph said.

The developer turned lawmaker said he understands what the city is trying to do, but cautions them that it must be done in a smart way that doesn’t drive up the costs too much.

“The stricter you are, the higher it raises the cost of development. The higher you raise the cost of development…the more it’s going to cost for any new homes being built. You keep raising that level? You keep adding it? Now you have created an unaffordability for any new housing in the city of Virginia Beach,” DeSteph said.

The public hearing on the public works regulations is scheduled for June 13. However, public comment on the larger issues of sea level rise continues this week.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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