VIRGINIA BEACH — As part of the city’s capital improvement program for the 2018-2019 budget, residents of the Ashville Park neighborhood in Virginia Beach could receive relief from the flooding and drainage issues that have plagued the neighborhood.
During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, the issue’s importance was on full display, with emotional pleas from residents for City Council to fully fund the capital improvement program that will fix part of the neighborhood’s flooding problems.
The Ashville Park neighborhood saga highlights the city’s attempts to address two overarching challenges that have been amplified in recent public hearings, City Council workshops and town halls — citywide drainage and flooding issues, as well as the balancing required for the city to mitigate development on flood-prone land without discouraging development elsewhere in the city.
Some 20 residents of Ashville Park attended Tuesday’s City Council meeting, and many spoke on the importance of funding the proposed drainage improvements.
Jeff Bobrowitz was one of those residents. He spoke about how his definition of “luck” has changed since moving to the Ashville Park neighborhood.
“When I came to this community, I felt lucky. I felt fortunate to have a good enough job to be able to live in a nice community,” Bobrowitz said. “A few short months later, I felt lucky that I only had a foot of water in my garage, and not another half-inch that would have brought the water into the first floor of my house.”
Another resident, Felicia Seeber, was brought to tears while speaking to City Council about the flooding of her “forever home” during Hurricanes Julia and Matthew.
“The feeling of fear and desperation that I and my husband felt as we stood in our house watching flood waters rush into our garage and then into the first floor of our home,” during Hurricane Julia in 2016 was “unforgettable,” Seeber said.
However, Hurricane Matthew was worse than Julie, and Seeber’s husband insisted that Felicia and their daughter leave Hampton Roads as the storm approached. Seeber said Hurricane Matthew left the first floor of their home filled with several feet of water.
Both Seeber and Bobrowitz urged City Council to fully fund phase 1 of the drainage improvements and to move forward with the cost sharing plan with the current developer.
How did we get here?
The saga of the Ashville Park neighborhood started in 1995 when land parcels were consolidated to build a golf course, said Barry Frankenfield, director of planning for the city.
However, after demand for the golf course waned, City Council rezoned the land in February 2004 from agricultural to residential for the development of 490 homes, of which 160 were age-restricted.
“At the time, this was a state-of-the-art suburban development, with tremendous amenities, tremendous connectivity,” Frankenfield said during Tuesday’s City Council workshop. “It was a model of the transitional area” in Virginia Beach.
The Ashville Park property was then sold to developers LM Sandler and Sons, who increased the number of proposed homes to 499 in May 2005. But in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, Frankenfield said a realty group associated with Wells Fargo foreclosed on the Ashville park property because of Sandler not meeting loan obligations.
HomeFed Ashville Park won a bid for the property after its foreclosure and is now the owner and developer. HomeFed completed the first two villages of the neighborhood in 2015. However, poor draining soil and inadequate stormwater systems have brought persistent flooding to the newly developed neighborhood.
Sharing the future cost
City Manager David Hansen has crafted a cost participation agreement for fixing the flooding and drainage problems in the neighborhood.
Hansen said the agreement lays out a cooperative road map for how the city and the developer will handle the stormwater improvements needed in the neighborhood.
Hansen said “Village C” section in Ashville Park will be developed after the first phase of the drainage improvements is complete. At that point, Hansen said HomeFed will construct either 98 or 116 additional lots in Village C.
But the assumption of additional development doesn’t necessarily sit right with everyone, including City Council member Barbara Henley, who represents the Princess Anne District where Ashville Park lies (although she was not on City Council when the land where Ashville Park now sits was rezoned to residential in 2004).
Henley said the lack of a comprehensive plan for the remaining two villages and their drainage plans and funding is cause for worry.
“There’s 200 more houses that supposedly can still be built out there and that’s hard to explain to taxpayers that are going to be saddled with funding all of this,” Henley said.
Henley added she “doesn’t think we can look at this project piecemeal, village by village. I want to see exactly what the rest of this community is going to look like, how many more units there really are, and how and when we’re going to attack these drainage problems” associated with those developments.
Virginia Beach’s 2019-2024 capital improve program includes $6 million this year and $4 million in 2020 for the first phase of the stormwater drainage improvements to Ashville Park.
The total cost of the design, site acquisition, construction and contingencies for the improvements totals $35 million, according to the city’s 2019-2024 CIP.
According to the CIP, the Ashville Park projects are intended to improve inter-connections between the neighborhood’s 15 lakes, facilitate an expansion of some of the existing neighborhood lakes, as well as construction of new additional neighborhood lakes.
However, while discussing the cost participation agreement Tuesday, Henley was still adamant about planning for the future.
“I really think we’ve got to look at the big picture, we’ve got to know what we’re committing future councils and the taxpayers to pay for, as well as what future people who buy into this community can expect.”