Subdivision near Fentress likely won’t take off after all


As the City Council prepares to vote again Tuesday on rezoning for a subdivision near Fentress Naval Auxiliary Landing Field, momentum appears to be swinging against the development.

Three of the council members who voted in favor last month for the plan to build 31 homes a few miles from the airfield say they now are better informed on how the development would threaten Oceana Naval Air Station in Virginia Beach.

Some council members said they thought the item was a simple rezoning request. But the vote upset Navy brass, Beach officials and state leaders. They said the vote violated a commitment made by Chesapeake and Virginia Beach to protect Oceana and Fentress from further encroachment by residential development after a 2005 round of closings nearly included the master jet base. Capt. Bob Geis, Oceana’s commanding officer, reminded council members of that agreement before the vote.

Councilman Lonnie Craig, who voted for the development, said he has more information now.

“I’m looking at this in the view of the impact that the Navy has on us, our economy in Chesapeake and how important the Navy is in the region,” he said.

Geis met with council members in a work session Tuesday. Councilwoman Ella Ward told Geis that his answers to questions posed at the session helped clarify the issue for her.

“It appears that it really is now very specific that there is to be no development in this area,” Ward said. “That wasn’t clear to me before this vote.”

On Feb. 19, the council voted 5-4 to rezone 15.6 acres along Mount Pleasant Road. Mayor Alan Krasnoff, Vice Mayor John de Triquet and Councilwomen Suzy Kelly and Debbie Ritter voted against the development.

A few days after the vote, after outcry from Navy and state leaders, the council decided to reconsider the rezoning.

“If someone from the base had talked to me and explained to me the importance of not having houses there, and the fact that they felt the Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission might come down on us, I probably would have looked at it differently then,” Craig said Friday.

“But now I have that information. We have to do what we can to protect the military.”

The Navy has been on the record as opposing the development since last year. The Planning Commission and city staff also recommended against it because of the agreement with the Navy.

Councilman Scott Matheson, who also voted for the development last month, said he was unaware of the potential repercussions of encroachment.

He said the agreement between the Navy and the city was misinterpreted before the initial vote. Geis said he thought the agreement was clear, but had he known it would be met with such confusion, he would have spoken with the council before February’s vote.

“What first appeared to be a seemingly insignificant vote – a handful of additional homes – has become much more significant in light of what we learned after the first vote,” Matheson said Friday. “We now understand the huge implications of putting any ammunition into the hands of a reconstituted BRAC. We cannot take that risk. It will hurt all of us in this city; it will hurt everybody in this region.”

Before the first vote, dozens of residents from Ravenna, the subdivision adjacent to the property under consideration, turned out for the meeting, with several of them taking the council floor to speak in support of the new development. Matheson said that in his three years serving on the council he has never seen such resident support for a development. More often, he said, residents turn out strongly to oppose new development near their homes.

“We’re trying to balance representing the people who live there and do the best we can for them, and they have valid points,” Matheson said. “But bigger than that is this potential impact (on Fentress). It’s really significant and a risk we cannot take.”

The Ravenna Homeowners Association has been tracking council actions on its website and posted a multipage report in defense of rezoning the property. Ravenna, a 194-home subdivision, is less than two miles from Fentress and also sits within the 65- to 70-decibel day/night average sound level area. Bill Devens, president of the association, said developing the neighboring property would not interfere with the Navy’s operations.

Councilmen Robert Ike and Rick West, two of the five who voted for the development, would not say how they will vote Tuesday.

However, West brought up the issue of property rights.

“The question now is the perceived threat of a future BRAC report versus the property rights of an owner,” he said. “Do you really believe that a person has a right to develop this property as long as it’s not interfering with others in that area around them?

“I think that’s a freedom that this country has always offered its citizens, and I hate to see that being tossed away. The Navy is there to protect our freedoms, not take them away.”

Marjon Rostami, 757-222-5207,

Back to Top