Development Review Good For Navy, Region


Chesapeake City Council’s approval of a small housing development within a few miles of Fentress Naval Auxiliary Landing Field this winter didn’t generate quite as much noise as an F/A-18 Hornet. But the loud reaction did jolt some city and Navy officials from their slumber.

Chesapeake and the Navy are finishing the details of a more formal review process that’s designed to prevent controversies like February’s 5-4 vote in favor of the 31-home development on Mount Pleasant Road.

That vote, later rescinded by the council, drew a swift rebuke from state and regional leaders and, most notably, the Navy. The approval defied a long-standing agreement between the city and the military to prevent further encroachment on Fentress, a practice field for Oceana Naval Station in Virginia Beach.

Navy officials, who had spoken against the development on the night of the vote and in the months leading up to it, expressed surprise when the council majority departed from the agreement.

Several council members who backed the project said they saw no reason to prohibit more houses in an area that already had them. And some expressed confusion over what the non-encroachment agreement, dating back to 1990, required them to do on the Navy’s behalf.

The vote raised valid concerns that Chesapeake’s action would weaken the region’s hand in any future hearings by the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission. The region nearly lost Oceana, a major employer and economic engine, during BRAC proceedings in 2005.

In recent weeks, Chesapeake officials have been finalizing plans for a formal review process for development proposals in areas deemed incompatible with Fentress. Virginia Beach follows a similar review process for land around Oceana.

The new panel, composed of Navy and Chesapeake officials, will evaluate projects and explore possible alternative uses of the land that might be compatible with Fentress. As before, the City Council will make the final decision on land-use changes.

The council is scheduled to vote on the review process Tuesday. It should be an easy landing. Chesapeake and the region have far too much to lose if they fail to cooperate with the Navy to ensure that Fentress and Oceana are able to continue their mission.

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