September 10, 2008
Deal Ends 5-Year Dispute Over Bay Oaks Park in Norfolk
By HARRY MINIUM
NORFOLKWith the stroke of a pen, City Councilman Don Williams ended a divisive and lengthy dispute over 21 acres of vacant land in East Ocean View by offering a compromise that is being celebrated by both sides.
Williams drew a line on a map down the middle of the property along 5th Bay Street. To the west, from 3rd Bay to 5th Bay, 11 acres would be turned into Bay Oaks Park, he proposed at Tuesday's council meeting. To the east, from 5th Bay to 7th Bay, about 10 acres would be developed into housing, he said.
He also proposed building a public walkway on 5th Bay and that houses built there face the park. He pitched calling the development "Parkview by the Bay." And with that, a five-year controversy that has led to petition drives, dozens of public meetings and a Virginia Supreme Court case in which the city lost to a local group of residents, came to an end.
"It's taken so long," said Marcella Powell, who dabbed tears away once it was clear a consensus had been reached. Powell, who lives in East Ocean View, began fighting to turn the area into a park eight years ago.
City leaders plan to next schedule a town hall meeting in East Ocean View to discuss the proposal. It will then go before the Planning Commission so the land can be rezoned.
Williams said his efforts to end the dispute began last month, when a friend suggested that he meet with Bill Kerry, the head of the Bay Oaks Park Committee that was formed to preserve the land as a park. Originally, City Manager Regina V.K. Williams and Planning Director Frank Duke were scheduled to present their vision for Bay Oaks on Tuesday. However, on Monday, Don Williams met with Mayor Paul Fraim and Regina Williams to ask if he could pitch his plan instead.
Fraim told Don Williams that he could if he was sure both sides would agree. Don Williams then called Kerry and Councilman W. Randy Wright, who represents East Ocean View and has advocated for housing on the site. They both agreed to the plan.
Councilman Paul R. Riddick said he likes the proposal but wants to make sure that it does not siphon money from other city projects.
Jim Gehman, who works in the city's housing authority, said he thinks money from land sales will pay for any new infrastructure and for the remaining $1.6 million of debt the authority owes for the land. The authority cleared the land of blighted housing years ago.
Kerry said he and other members of the committee would like to raise money to build the park. He said he also would like to erect a memorial for U.S. Navy SEALS killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the park. SEALS are based at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base, not far from the East Ocean View park site.
Ann Fitzgibbon, a Bay Oaks committee member, said the new area will help restore 12 acres of parkland lost when the city closed City Beach more than five years ago, now the home of the upscale East Beach community.
City Beach was once the only beach in Norfolk in which African Americans could swim.
Fitzgibbon said the 5,376 people who signed petitions three years ago opposing plans to build housing at Bay Oaks deserve the credit for the compromise.
"It is the citizens of Norfolk, and the power of petition initiatives, that has made this park possible," she said.
Harry Minium, (757) 446-2371, [email protected]
Norfolk Councilman Don Williams drew a line on a map down the middle of the property along 5th Bay Street. To the west, from 3rd Bay to 5th Bay, 11 acres would be turned into Bay Oaks Park, he proposed at Tuesday's council meeting. To the east, from 5th Bay to 7th Bay, about 10 acres would be developed into housing, he said. petitions
Ann Fitzgibbon, a member of the Bay Oaks Park Committee, said the 5,376 people who signed petitions three years ago deserve the credit for the compromise.
Originally published by The Virginian-Pilot.
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