Virginia Beach promised changes for developers if flooding referendum passed. Why have they delayed a vote?

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach City Council punted following through on a promise it made to voters ahead of the 2021 referendum on flooding, in order to hear additional concerns from the development community.

In a unanimous vote with little discussion on Tuesday, council members deferred voting on a change to the city’s comprehensive plan that would require the planning department to recommend any new proposed development that generates “a net increase in water discharge demand” be denied.

Initially proposed by council members John Moss and Guy Tower in an effort to win over skeptics of the plan, some in the development community have since pushed back with concerns the move makes the city seem “not open for business.”

Discussions between the city leadership and representatives of the development community, chiefly the Coastal Virginia Building Industry Association, have been ongoing almost since summer 2020, when the city adopted new development standards following increasing flooding events.

On Nov. 2, nearly 73% of voters in the city agreed to have their real estate taxes raised by an estimated $150 a year in order to fund nearly $568 million in projects aimed at combatting the flooding.

On Nov. 10, the Virginia Beach Planning Commission, voted 11-0 to recommend the City Council deny adding language to the comprehensive plan they already vowed to pass. Several commissioners, who have strong ties to the development community, said the whole process was moving too fast.

“I hear all the time that from other developers that feel that City of Virginia Beach is difficult to do business in,” Whitney Graham said. “It’s expensive. And I’m concerned that it’s going to really shut down any redevelopment in the city. I just don’t think it was well thought out. And I feel like it’s too rushed and I will not support this.”

Moss said, adding in the language to the city’s comprehensive plan is not the issue.

“All we are doing with the comprehensive plan is recognizing the requirement that is already policy,” Moss said. “What is really desired is relief from the stormwater management regulations that’s what’s being really requested. And I am not in the least bit in favor of that but at least want to give every opportunity to put specifically in writing what they want.”

Eddie Bourdon, a longtime attorney who often represents developers in front of the city, argued that the stormwater models that the city is requiring developers to use nearly require projects to be perfect.

“We can’t have one 100th of an inch, which isn’t even measurable, leave the property. Okay. So no, and if there’s not at least the tiniest amount of discretion on the part of our professional staff, we are basically saying we’re not open for business and that’s what I’m concerned about,” Bourdon said back in November.

Moss along with Councilman Louis Jones have been meeting for months with city planners, attorneys and representatives from the building community trying to make modifications to the regulations.

With the vote differed, the city is continuing to take comments until January 14 on what stormwater regulatory changes may be considered. Moss said he is open to finding a better way of doing things. What he isn’t willing to do is lower the bar.

“I put my political credibility on the line to get people to vote for this,” Moss aid. “To say we’re going to let people say ‘oh no, we are going to want to put net discharge onto the public to take care of,’ that is what the public heard us say we are not going to approve development that isn’t living with the no net zero discharge when you develop.”

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