VIRGINIA BEACH — The City Council won’t allow a gymnastics-style fitness park to be erected on the beach, at least not at 40th Street.
The council voted 5-5 with one abstention Tuesday on an ordinance that would have allowed Luke Hillier, a local entrepreneur, to build such a park at that location and donate it to the city. He said it would have been a $150,000 gift that he would financially maintain. The tied vote wasn’t enough for it to go forward.
The proposal ran into opposition from many residents living near 40th Street. About 15 of them said in a public hearing before the vote that they were opposed to the proposed location but not the park itself. They said it would have caused parking issues and be too close to their homes. They were also against having a portable toilet that placed on site, an addition made in response to concerns about a lack of a bathroom at the park.
Councilman Ben Davenport, who voted for the park, said after the meeting that he was disappointed and wanted Hillier to try again at a new location: 17th Street.
“We need to work on this because we need this in the city of Virginia Beach,” he said. “And I won’t stop until we get it.”
Several opponents to the park suggested the same location — in the ViBe Creative District — during public comments.
After the vote, Hiller did not rule out trying a new location, saying he needed time to reflect on it.
The City Council had praised him in November when the idea was presented, but residents living near 40th Street were scornful and raised concerns. The council delayed a vote in December.
In response to residents’ concerns, Hillier made changes to plans for the $150,000 “Hillier Ignite Fitness Park,” including shrinking its footprint, moving it slightly south — away from the residences in question — and adding a portable toilet. Residents near 40th Street were not satisfied, although one who lived nearby on Holly Road, Paul Kane, said he supported the park. He said no matter what he did, they were always going to complain because they wanted it somewhere else entirely.
The location between 39th and 40th streets was perfect for taxpayers across the city, especially those living in the North End and visiting in the resort area, Hillier said.
Before the vote, Virginia Beach Resort Administrator Mike Eason said “numerous” other locations had been considered but that those would have been problematic. Asked by Councilman John Moss if there was a methodology used to evaluate other sites, Eason said no. He did not identify the other spots but said many locations were ruled out immediately because they host regular events. He also said the location was chosen because that’s where Hillier wanted it.
Moss, one of the council members who voted against the park, said he didn’t know why it was being considered only at 40th Street and that he believed due diligence had not been done on the proposal.
Councilman Bob Dyer said he voted no even though he liked the idea because there was too little public input in the project for him to support it. He also questioned why the first public hearing on the proposal was being held on the same day as the vote, a problem he feels is ongoing and plans to address at the council’s upcoming annual retreat.
Councilwoman Shannon Kane said she didn’t know why Hillier wasn’t held to the same standard of public input that development firms are and didn’t know whether to vote for the park or not. She abstained.
Immediately after the vote, a resident of one of the condo complexes on 40th Street literally jumped for joy and yelled, “Yes!”
Hillier’s reaction was different.
“It was a little depressing,” he said, adding that some of opposition’s comments hurt him.
Council members Rosemary Wilson, John Uhrin, Jim Wood and Ben Davenport joined Mayor Will Sessoms in voting for the project.
Councilwomen Amelia Ross-Hammond, Barbara Henley and Vice Mayor Louis Jones joined Dyer and Moss in voting against it.
Have a story idea or news tip? Contact city hall reporter Judah Taylor at Judah@SouthsideDaily.com or 757-490-2750.
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