Virginia Beach City Council, residents at odds, and it has something do with Bonney Road

VIRGINIA BEACH — On June 4, members of City Council cast their votes in a formal meeting to approve the sale of the excess property on Bonney Road — a topic that has had some residents’ attention for some time.

As soon as Mayor Bobby Dyer called for speakers to address the ordinance that would authorize the City Manager to enter into a purchase agreement with Olympia Development Corporation, upstood Virginia Beach resident of 12 years Rona Marsh.

“I’m here to talk to you about not selling the excess city property on Bonney Road,” she said.

Marsh referenced the three-year crash report statistics she received from city traffic engineer Ric Lowman.

“The last time I was here, I mentioned there had been 80 crashes at the intersection of Bonney and Independence,” Marsh said.

Debbi Impervento compared this situation to when developers built along Buchannan Creek.

“First, [the property on Bonney Road] is a wetland and it’s in a flood zone,” she said. “If you don’t understand the difficulties of people who live adjacent to tidal water that is somehow owned by private developers, just ask me.”

RELATED STORY: Life in Hampton Roads: Residents concerned about sea level rise and flooding

And then, three more residents stood up in opposition to the sale of the 11.7 acres of property that has had a controversial history going as far back as 1996.

Some background

  • 1996 – The city “inherited” the property and planned to transform what used to be a Days Inn hotel into a mental health and substance abuse program facility.
  • 2001 – Virginia Beach sold the property for $1.2 million to Branwick Corporate Center, LLC who failed to follow through with the city’s intended project.
  • 2003 – The city bought the property back for the same price.
  • 2017- The city decided to pursue Olympia Development Corporation’s proposal to build office buildings on the property.
  • May 2019 – A counter-offer came into play which proposed taxpayers provide $11 million in incentives for the development company to add apartments and on-site parking to the plan, said Councilman John Moss.
  • June 2019 – Council voted 10-1 to approve the city manager enter into a “straight sale,” without tax incentives, agreement with Olympia Development Corporation.

Concerns

Marsh pleaded with City Council to defer their vote on Bonney Road until VDOT finished its “phase-one study.”

VDOT spokeswoman Brittany McBride Nichols said the department is studying the Independence/I-264 interchange and the nearby Bonney Road “to develop short and long-term recommendations for improvements.”

She said, the sale of the property on Bonney Road has “no effect on the study” and is expected to be completed by the end of the summer.

“There will always be traffic,” Lowman said. “Whether they build or not, our job is to make sure the traffic system is safe and functional.”

Lowman said, the Traffic Engineering Department “constantly reviews the top 20 crash locations to see what we can do to improve them.” The intersection of Bonney and Independence is No. 58 on the city’s “2017 Crash Rankings” report.

The weighted list is released every year in the fall, and is based on “the number of crashes, the severity of crashes, and the number of vehicles typically on that road,” Lowman said.

“Once the developer builds on the property, they have the responsibility to conduct their own study to determine the impact on the roads as they exist,” he added.

Marsh said she’s disappointed council ignored residents’ calls saying, “we’re creating more situations.”

Like the other residents who spoke out against the ordinance, Marsh is also concerned about wetlands and the property’s vulnerability to flooding — it’s a FEMA designated A/E flood zone.

“There’s going to be heavy flooding and more accidents,” she said.

Even so, Moss said this wouldn’t be the first time the city builds in a flood zone, adding “it doesn’t prohibit construction.”

RELATED STORY: Virginia Beach will see reduced flood insurance premiums. Here’s why

He said there are requirements developers will have to meet to “maintain stormwater on their property” and the new systems are “probably going to provide more water control than the current land.”

Councilwoman Sabrina Wooten is the only council member who voted “no.”

She said she asked but never received additional information on how the developers “planned to address flooding concerns.”

Wooten said not only does she plan to keep her campaign promise to “support responsible development,” but as a member of the American Flood Coalition, she has “extensive information on what happens when there is continued development in flood-prone areas.”

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Lucretia Cunningham is a multimedia journalist at Southside Daily covering hyper-local stories in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. Her stories focus on public safety, tourism, and city government. She is a Virginia transplant and military spouse originally from Chicago. Lucretia also served on active duty from 2006 to 2016 and started her journalism career as a broadcaster in the Virginia Air National Guard. When she’s not covering stories on the Southside, she’s covering stories with her Air National Guard unit.