VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Making products again in the United States – that is one of the reasons an unnamed company is looking to turn 150 acres of farmland into a manufacturing facility, according to city economic development leaders.
The idea, dubbed “Project Wayne,” has been discussed behind closed doors for weeks now but was made public in late April.
While Deputy City Manager and Economic Development Director Taylor Adams said details are sparse because of non-disclosure agreements, the company looking to locate in Virginia Beach would do so with a $175 million investment to construct a medical manufacturing facility with the potential to bring up to 400 new jobs.
The problem is, the only land Adams said is viable for the project now is in an area where longtime policy would discourage it. The policy has been in place since 1979.
It’s exactly why dozens of neighbors in the area and the district’s council member are drumming up support to squash the idea, even though it still hasn’t officially been requested.
The first time the proposal was made public was the last week in April when Adams briefed the City Council publicly at the request of second district Councilwoman Barbara Henley.
At that time, the proposal was to eventually develop 700 acres of city-owned farmland in what is known as the interfacility traffic area, or ITA. The ITA is land that sits between what’s known as the “green line” and the boundary where city water services end, south of Indian River Road.
In this case, the city owned farmland Project Wayne is eying sits just south of of the Princess Anne Athletic Complex with Landsdown Road to the north, the Virginia Beach National Golf Club to the East.
Priorities in the ITA area include economic development, agricultural research, provision of quality municipal services and conservation. He noted that an expansion of the Princess Anne Athletic Complex is in the ITA land use plan.
But on May 16, in a public comment session hosted by City Council, a majority of speakers came out in opposition to the idea, because of the “green line.”
The green line is what is known as an “urban growth boundary” meant to help push development to the northern part of the city and protect the agricultural nature of the south.
The land to the south of the imaginary green line is to promote agriculture uses, according to council policy.
“My biggest concern is we have probably some of the best plans we’ve ever done and we’re not listening to it,” Bill Almond, a longtime resident who who served on several city committees.
After nearly an hour of public comment, Henley echoed those comments. But also said there are far too many answered questions to move forward now.
“If you want to stick with what we’ve lived with since 1979 and its been successful all we have to do is say no and go on,” Henley said.
But not all comments were negative, and some have said this would be the kind of development that will help bring sustainable jobs, outside of defense, to the city.
“The majority of that manufacturing has been outsourced to Mexico and Asia over the last 50 years,” Adams said. “We are now seeing on the back end of the pandemic that for the strength and the security of our own supply chain that a lot of that has to come home. And it needs to be made here and this is part of that wave.”
They’ve been able to condense their land plan down to 150 acres.
“This northernmost parcel was the parcel that (was) designated for a municipal service facility,” Adams said, like a recycling transfer station.
At the April briefing, Adams noted that the project, according to the confidential letter of intent from the unnamed company, would likely come in three phases and ultimately employ up to 2,000 people and could generate capital investment of more than $500 million, but he said he it wouldn’t be appropriate to base anything on any subsequent phases other than phase one.
Adams said then that the city learned of the prospective business through the governor’s office and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, but was otherwise unsolicited. The city, Adams said, does not have any other property suitable for the project that could be delivered in a timely fashion, accounting for the growth the company seeks.
If the city were to turn down the project, VDEP would then seek to push for other sites in the state “to save this project for Virginia,” since Adams said it is a highly-competitive project.
“Make no mistake,” Adams said, “A $500 million investment and 2,000 jobs would be a project that every economic developer in America would chase hard.
“We were able to sit here and figure out what your concerns were. What bothered you about it, what needs to be rectified and things of this nature. Be assured this was just the first step. This was not the final outcome.”