CHESAPEAKE – Along the southern edge of town, near the North Carolina state line, are 4,000 acres of plowed land that once produced soybeans, wheat and corn.
But in recent years, city officials have seen part of this rural area as a unique economic development opportunity for larger commercial and industrial projects. Solar farms and mixed-use developments have also been considered. Now, a new project has been developed for this property – a so-called industrial mega-site which will be called the Coastal Virginia Commerce Park.
The land is owned by Frank T. Williams of Virginia Beach, who began assembling a slew of properties near the state line in the 1970s.
The city has applied for an $85 million grant from the state that will help prepare the site for future projects. But the site must be rezoned before it can receive funding. In At a meeting this week, city leaders said Chesapeake is moving quickly on the rezoning application because competitive grant funding is expected to be awarded by the end of the calendar year.
The Planning Commission will vote on the rezoning at its Nov. 9 meeting before council members vote the following week. The application is to rezone the 1,420 acre parcel of farmland from agriculture to industry.
If rezoned, land uses could include research and development facilities, e-commerce and distribution centers, environmentally responsible manufacturing, medical campuses, corporate headquarters and higher education centers. Certain other forms of activity are permitted as secondary uses, including hotels, banks, warehouses and on-site storage facilities.
But residential developments, salvage yards, cargo containers and repair facilities and landfills would not be welcome.
Economic Development Director Steven Wright said The Chesapeake Industrial Park would compete for business with other such parks in Danville, Chesterfield and Sandston. But Wright is convinced that Chesapeake has the advantage because the land is already cleared and flat and because of its prime location as a gateway to the Commonwealth near a major port.
Wright cited Lego’s $1 billion investment in a new manufacturing plant in Chesterfield Meadowville Technology Park as an example of what Chesapeake could attract its mega-site.
“We’re talking billions of investments and jobs in the thousands,” he said.
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A city spokesperson told The Virginian-Pilot that the Economic Development Authority had discussed purchasing the property, but no agreement had been reached. In the event of purchase, the EDA would be the owner and operator.
No development plan has yet been proposed.
A variety of landscaping and improvements are planned for the site, such as a forest buffer, trees and plants along the medians and rights-of-way, open and community spaces and trail connections, including a potential connection to the Dismal Swamp trail. City personnel work with agencies like the Navy to minimize any electromagnetic interference, which could include lower voltage lights, for example.
The property will still need utilities like natural gas and internet service.
But while city officials have called it a “transformative” opportunity, some residents are calling on the city to “stop urbanizing” its rural lands and support and protect “irreplaceable fragile ecosystems, wildlife habitats and our chosen way of life. according to an online petition.
Frank T. Williams farmland is nestled between the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and the Northwest River Nature Preserve.
Natalie Anderson, 757-732-1133, firstname.lastname@example.org