Friday, October 2, 2009

Newtown SGA Meetings - Round 1

On Thursday Virginia Beach held the first round of public meetings on a plan for redevelopment of the Newtown Strategic Growth Area (SGA). There were focus groups earlier in the day, followed by a meeting open to the general public in the evening. Both types of sessions asked the same three questions and had the same map exercise as their climax.

10:30 A.M. Focus Group

Arriving early in the area by bus, I had to walk over and take a look at the eastern terminus of the Norfolk light rail line. In turn I looked down the Virginia Beach portion of the vacant Norfolk Southern Right-Of-Way. (Do I have to spell out what I was thinking?) I walked to the Virginia Beach office of Virginia's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), where all Newtown SGA meetings are slated to be held. I found the distance surprisingly walkable.

Kudos to DEQ for the nicest men's room I've ever seen in a government office building. Not only a great bathroom, but clear signage to it that meant you didn't have to ask directions.

Our 10:30 focus group was made up mostly of business people and residents from within or nearby the Newtown SGA. Therefore, they had great knowledge of the area.

This is the third SGA plan that I've participated in, and the questions on this one will probably make it harder than either of the other two (Resort Area and Pembroke) to reach a consensus:

1. Should the building mix be commercial and light industrial (current), or commercial and residential?

About 80% of the land in the SGA is now being utilized for commercial or light industrial.

A few things. First, Newtown is one of the 4 current SGAs that is suitable for large-scale residential redevelopment, being outside the Oceana AICUZ zones. Second, light industry is what the City wants in the periphery of Oceana, as it's compatible under the AICUZ regulations. Third, light industry may not have the density to support light rail.

2. What role should mass transit play in the future?

How long before Virginia Beach light rail comes online? Also, how many people will choose transit over their cars?

A few matters of note. First, it was pointed out that the first thing visitors entering Virginia Beach via I-264 see is the Newtown SGA. Therefore, it should be a pleasant-looking gateway. Second, Virginia Beach really isn't in a position to deal with the problems of Newtown Road itself with the east curb line being the Norfolk city line. Third, the walkability issue hit home when I tried crossing Princess Anne Road to catch the bus out. I found it more difficult than Virginia Beach Boulevard in my home neighborhood.

The climax of the focus group was placing dots on the SGA map: red for weaknesses, green for strengths, and blue for potential for improvement. Our group carpet bombed the Arrowhead Shopping Center with red dots.

6 P.M. General Public meeting

With the RAC meeting having run long, I was down to my third bus option - and the first of the two buses was running 9 minutes late. Still, I managed to make it there at 6:04. With a large crowd, the meeting was late starting, so I missed nothing. It occurred to me that had Virginia Beach light rail been in place, I could have taken the train from the convention center station to the Newtown Road station in minutes.

There was a Presentation made to the public (even some info not covered in the focus group), followed by the dots onto the map exercise at each table. A spokesperson from each table afterwards presented their table's input.

There were some snobbish comments. One table attacked poor neighborhoods as generators of crime. The same table wanted "no Section 8 housing" in the SGA. (NEWS FLASH: you can't legally bar Section 8 from an area.) Another table's spokesperson stated "renters have no responsibility."

There were some stupid comments. One table wanted "another Sportsplex" in the SGA. (Yeah, like the first one has been a huge success....) Another wanted "75-80 foot landscape buffers" between properties. (That's thinner than the Beach's current suburban!)

Round 2 of the process has the consultant slated to come back in December, holding a week-long studio at DEQ with possibilities. After getting feedback on them, they'll then try to draw up a final draft plan for public comment.

There were some moments of humor on Thursday evening:

1. After a couple at my table had been spewing VBTA b.s. all night, I put a red dot on their business.

2. A hotel General Manager in the SGA claimed prostitution was rampant in the Newtown Road/Greenwich Road area, provoking laughter and jokes.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the update.

Your much better than the Pilot :)

We need to just hurry up and extend light rail to the oceanfront. It'd be much more convenient. Guess I'll just have to take the Tide to the 20 to get to TC or the Oceanfront until VaBeach extends.

Avenging Archangel said...

Anon 11:56,

In the second draft of the Norfolk LRT feeder bus plan, there's an express bus that runs Newtown Road LRT Station - Town Center - Resort Area. The catch, of course, is getting the City of Virginia Beach to actually pay for it.

From your comments you can probably appreciate what I went through. Leaving the RAC meeting:

1. Plan A - 4 P.M. 33 from 19th/Pacific to the 25.

2. Plan B - 4:07 20 to the Outbound 25 at Kempsville Road.

3. Plan C - 4:37 20 to the Cutback Outbound 25 at Kempsville Road.

The 20 was running down, but I figured the 25 would be, too, given that it would be the same vehicle that would have had to get through the PA/Kempsville/Witchduck intersection about 5:15. Made the flip at Rite-Aid at Kempsville with about a 90 second gap, then had to walk from the Ruby Tuesday's stop on Newtown to DEQ. That I pulled that one off in the end is further proof that God loves me. :)

Anonymous said...

(Same poster as before)

Wow, that was great.

The only problem I have with the 20 is the crowds during rush hour! I cannot wait until I can ride a nice spacious train to and from work.

I don't see why HRT doesn't just adjust the 960 MAX from Cedar Grove - Silverleaf - Oceanfront to Newtown LRT Station- Town Center- Oceanfront???! People who usually depart from Cedar Grove would just have to take the 310 to get downtown and take the train.

thesh00ter said...

ah i see the haters come out at night for this meeting too huh? kinda related but do u think Sessoms has a chance at getting re-elected?

Avenging Archangel said...


It's awfully early, but odds are that he does.

Sessoms endorsing Jody Wagner for LG was a huge strategic blunder. Sessoms needs to lock up the Republican establishment for 2012 to prevent a credible challenge from his right.

Sessoms obviously can count on the business community short of a catastrophe. That leaves Sessoms needing the minority communities at least neutral, if not in his favor. No VBTAer will flank him through the minority communities.

Speaking of our favorite bunch of kooks, the VBTA is in a Catch-22 on light rail: it's the only issue looming with which they can try to bail their group, but misplaying the issue will destroy any chance of support outside their tiny breakfast group. So far the VBTA is in self-destruct mode, and I doubt they'll be smart enough to correct course.

thesh00ter said...

lol, i heard that

lets say he didn't endorse Wagner, how bad would that have hurt support from his own party? look what happened with Mr Wilder. Although he's not in any office at the moment, but both sides aren't liking him right now.

Anonymous said...

I think Sessoms will get re elected. The few LRT naysayers and VBTA supporters are not enough to sabatoge Sessoms mayoral career.

Avenging Archangel said...

Anon 10:52,

If Sessoms plays his cards smart, he wins reelection in 2012 in a walk.

My point about the Republican establishment is that they're the gatekeepers to a serious conservative challenge. As long as Sessoms has their support, a challenger from the right won't have access to Republican professional staff, voter lists, etc.