Navy considers opening parts of Oceana to public, leasing land for development

Navy considers opening parts of Oceana to public, leasing land for development
As Matt Tusen photographs the aircraft at left, Terra Tusen holds their dog, Zeus, as a passing Navy jet approaches to land at Oceana Naval Air Station at the small viewing area off of Oceana Blvd in Virginia Beach on Thursday afternoon, September 11, 2014. Both were visiting the area from Fremont, Ohio. (Martin Smith-Rodden | The Virginian-Pilot) (Martin Smith-Rodden)

The Navy is considering opening parts of Naval Air Station Oceana to the public and leasing the land to private companies so it can spend more on supporting its war-fighting mission and less on being a landlord that runs a golf course, gym and barracks.

Navy leaders believe moving back the base’s fence line, leasing the land and opening some of its surrounding properties to limited development would reduce ownership costs and generate additional revenue for the installation. That’s important because the Navy estimates that Oceana only receives 60 to 67 percent of the funding it needs for infrastructure.

“We are the East Coast Master Jet Base, and there is an increasing conflict between our mission, our sailor quality of life and how we deliver those services,” Capt. John Hewitt, Oceana’s executive officer, said in a Virginia Beach City Council briefing on Tuesday.

When U.S. Rep. Elaine Luria visited Oceana earlier this summer, she noted myriad infrastructure issues on the base. The squadron that trains all new and returning F/A-18 pilots has a hangar that was built in 1957. It has a leaky roof, an air conditioning system that doesn’t work, and plumbing that frequently clogs and leaks, her office said.

The fire suppression system also doesn’t work, placing a dozen aircraft at risk, her office said. She also found that several of the base’s barracks have been condemned due to black mold and leaky roofs.

“In Hampton Roads, we understand how important our training and maintenance facilities are to prepare our forces for deployment. Congress and the Navy must prioritize these repairs, and in some cases replace whole buildings,” Luria said in a statement last week.

Under the Navy’s plan, Oceana would be able to direct funding generated from private-public partnerships back toward its own operations without having to go through the typical appropriations process. Hewitt said he envisions five-year leases where businesses would pay the market value of the land to the Navy.

Oceana, which sits on 5,916 acres of valuable real estate, is one of Virginia Beach’s largest economic engines.Its existence was once threatened by surrounding development when it was targeted for closure by a Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 2005. But since then, the city has bought up nearby land and made sure new developments are compatible with the base’s mission to provide training and support for fighter pilots.

Navy officials believe those moves have helped secure the installation’s home in Virginia Beach for the long term.

“It’s an awesome installation. It’s not going anywhere. There’s no consideration of moving any capacity out of Oceana,” Hewitt said.

Any new uses on base or nearby properties it owns would still be subject to development restrictions, meaning there likely wouldn’t be any residential development. Instead, it would be used for commercial real estate, like warehouses, manufacturing and retail services.

Oceana spokeswoman Jennifer Hayes said the Navy is looking for “the highest and best use of land” and is exploring partnerships to provide child care, lodging, community-based recreation and intergovernmental support. The Navy also is considering opening a parcel of land to industry partners such as Boeing to support its F/A-18 Super Hornets.

It’s unclear how soon any changes would take effect. Hewitt noted that the federal government moves slowly and there are a lot of agencies and departments that would have to work together on the plan in conjunction with the city. He said there are a variety of legal issues that have to be worked through.

But Hewitt said he envisions there being a day where hundreds of people in town for a conference at the Virginia Beach Convention Center could come golf at Oceana without having to go through security.

“We’ve heard the comment that Oceana is something for the residents of Virginia Beach you have to drive around. It’s kind of a black hole,” Hewitt said. “Well maybe with future base design we can remove that moniker, we can remove that notion.”

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