VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — “Precedent” may be the term most thrown around regarding the apartments approved to be built along Princess Anne Road, near the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.
Speakers from the city discussed in the meeting on Tuesday how this development would set several precedents in Virginia Beach, but disagreed on whether that was a good thing. One side argued it would help with the housing crisis. However, critics contested the idea that it would use land previous designated for farming, and violated city-zoning laws.
The 7-2 vote approved the construction of The Silo at Southern Pines apartments. The vote also approved setting aside 53 units of the 176-unit development for “workforce housing.” The development will be located southeast of the Virginia Beach National Golf Course.
Those 53 units would be set aside for those who make between 40-100% of the area median income, and be rented out at 25% below market-rate, according to representatives from The Franklin Johnston Group. The company is the Virginia Beach-based developer behind the project.
The developers and their supporters said it would be “precedent-setting” for City Council to approve a development with workforce housing in the southern portion of the city as it had never been done.
However, a majority of speakers said the precedent being set was that city-zoning laws, strategic plans and flooding concerns would be ignored for profit.
The development is to be built on just over six acres of land that, in the past, has been used for farming. The plans submitted by Franklin Johnston call for four, four-story apartment buildings, one three-story apartment building and a two-story clubhouse to join the already 240 units, more than 15-acre Southern Pines multi-family complex.
Initially, the buildings were to be spread out over the entire acreage. However, planning staff realized after the item first went to the Planning Commission, that a little more than two acres of the property sits inside what’s known as the Interfacility Traffic Area, or ITA, said Freddie Fletcher, a senior development manager for Franklin Johnston Group, overseeing the project.
The ITA is the area between Naval Air Station Oceana, or NAS Oceana, and Naval Auxiliary Landing Field Fentress, or NALF Fentress, in Chesapeake that is subject to frequent overflight by jets.
As a result of Base Realignment and Closure, or BRAC, in 2005, Virginia Beach joined forces with NAS Oceana staff to ensure development around certain parts of the base would remain free of “people-intensive” developments that could be at risk, if something were to go wrong in military flight operations.
“[City planning staff] asked us to remove those units outside of the ITA,” Fletcher said.
Fletcher said they resubmitted their plans retaining all 176 units on just over three acres outside of the ITA.
A letter from the commanding officer of NAS Oceana confirmed the new plans would not be an issue.
However, Councilwoman Barbara Henley, who at the end of her 10th term will hold the title as the longest serving council member in city history, led the charge to oppose the project for several other reasons. She along with Councilman Chris Taylor voted in opposition to the re-zoning.
It sits below what is known as the “green line,” an urban growth boundary meant to help push development to the northern part of the city and protect the agricultural nature of the south, Henley said. She also pointed out the property is prone to flooding.
In response to a recent audit, the Virginia Beach National Golf course management said the drainage system works “OK — except in times of heavy rain.” Their letter goes onto say the drainage system requires constant maintenance and repairs due to poor installation practices when the course was built.
But Fletcher pointed out being close to the municipal center complex, the city’s comprehensive plan calls for a mix of housing types, and Henley supported apartments in what Fletcher is now calling “Phase 1” of the project years ago. Fletcher also said storm water issues can be worked out.
However, what he doesn’t dispute is that the amount of units planned exceeds the city’s zoning guidelines.
When it comes to building apartments on the land, the limit is 18 units per acre.
When combining the current apartment complex and adding the additional 176 units, the total comes to 18.94.
“It changes our development policies below the green line to allow very high density development,” Henley said. “I mean, when you get 176 units built on three acres, we don’t even have an apartment zoning category that allows that.”
However, in a staff report, it’s states that because more than 17% of the apartments would be workforce housing, the project is eligible for a 30% density bonus on the six acre plot.
“Workforce housing, in order to make that work, you need additional density,” Fletcher said. “It’s not financeable otherwise.”
While the project likely won’t be ready for people to move in until 2026, Fletcher estimated monthly rent for workforce housing could be around $1,300-1,400 for a one-bedroom, $1,400-1,600 for a two-bedroom and $1,700-1,900 for a three-bedroom. He said those are estimates, and the amount equal to 30% of a persons actual income will be taken into account.
“We’re committed to make sure the affordable housing we manage is quality, and we are not overcharging our residents,” Fletcher said.
The city will place a 50-year minimum compliance deed restriction for workforce housing, enforceable by the city zoning department.
“This proposed development application does not meet the standards that Virginia Beach has set for providing for the health, safety and welfare of our citizens,” Henley said before moving to deny the project.
However, Mayor Bobby Dyer agreed a precedent would be set with the vote that the community is serious about addressing their housing crisis.
“We identified housing as our fourth highest priority after storm water, public safety [and] schools,” Dyer said. “This is critical. This is the first test vote we are going to have to test the resolve … of our city to take it to the next level.”
Dyer received criticism that he was only in favor of the project because it was being developed by Franklin Johnston who has donated more than $20,000 to Dyer’s campaign since he became mayor in 2018.
Dyer denied the claim.
“We have been working on this project for months,” Dyer said. “But once again coming out. I think we have to show our resolve, and I’m sorry it’s at your expense that we are serious about the workforce housing situation. The attainable housing.”
CORRECTION: In on-air broadcast versions of this story it is incorrectly stated who qualifies for the workforce housing. WAVY-TV apologizes for the error.