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On the Waterfront: Whitehouse Cove – a Planned Residential Compound – Appeals to Some in Poquoson, While Others Are Reluctant.

January 13, 2007

By Matt Sabo, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.

Jan. 13–POQUOSON — Developers of a proposed $100 million housing and marina project at Whitehouse Cove on Rens Road insist they’re not going to alter Poquoson’s identity.

Tell that to the dozens of residents — or more — allied against the proposal.

If approved for a rezoning, it will be the biggest development in the city’s history. In hopes of currying favor with some residents opposed to the project, the developers have recently proposed refurbishing a public access pier and

dock and building a new public boat ramp.

For some, however, it’s still too much.

“I’ve been here 40 years,” said Ed Matheson. “We haven’t seen anything like this before.”

Matheson, spokesman for a group called Citizens Preserving Poquoson’s Character, said three separate city surveys have shown people don’t want high-density housing.

“Particularly not down on the waterfront,” he said.

Ignoring public sentiment would subvert the democratic process, Matheson said.

If approved, the Whitehouse Cove project would transform 18 acres of a dilapidated marina and trailer park that dates to the 1960s into an upscale residential waterfront compound.

Some of the proposed buildings would stretch 45 feet high, 10 feet taller than the city allows in residential zones.

Although plans initially called for 150 residential units, a revised proposal calls for 138.

The firm pitching the proposal is Robert Brown & Associates. Brad Brown, the firm’s director of development and son of Robert Brown, said residential units were cut to provide parking and access to a new public boat ramp.

In addition, some of the town houses around the boat ramp area were switched to condominiums to accommodate the boat ramp, Brown said.

While Brown concedes the project has its vocal detractors, he also said he has plenty of support.

“As we’ve been able to explain the project, I think people understand we’ve been trying to do it first class,” Brown said. “We think our plan is the best option to keeping the area open to the public versus just putting single-family homes down here.”

Crosby Forrest has lived in Poquoson for all of his 60 years. He’s a former member of the Poquoson City Council, the Poquoson Wetlands Board and the Poquoson Planning Commission.

He also lives down Rens Road from the proposed project.

As he sees it, the Whitehouse Cove development would only be good for the city.

“This proposal is such a win-win for the city it’s pathetic,” he said. “The economic benefit for the city is great.”

Tax revenues of $1.5 million a year could be pumped into the city’s coffers, he said.

But it would also offer something to residents like him who are aging and don’t want to be saddled with keeping up their yards and homes: A waterfront lifestyle without the hassle of home maintenance.

The Whitehouse Cove project would allow him to live in a maintenance-free condominium on the water, Forrest said. The other options are either moving to a condo on Wythe Creek Road — that’s unappealing because he wants to be on the water — or moving to another city, he said.

“As I’m rapidly approaching to being a senior citizen, I’m looking to something in the future,” he said.

Poquoson resident Tom Meree, who was just elected to the City Council, said he would like to see a marina and a restaurant on the property — even leaving the still operating Bubba’s Restaurant — along with 26 condominiums or single-family homes allowed under the current zoning.

“Nine out of 10 people in town don’t want to see multi-family housing,” Meree said.

Meree said the city has also recently learned it owns a 50-foot right-of-way along Rens Road, rather than a 30-foot strip that it previously thought it owned.

That could pave the way for more spaces at a public boat ramp.

“What’s really exciting to me about that is the city can put in a lot more parking since the city has a 50-foot right-of-way,” he said.

But Brown said the plans for 11 parking spaces that can accommodate trailers at the new public boat ramp will work better than what Meree is considering.

Vehicles that have used the public boat ramp have historically parked in a cul-de-sac on Rens Road or on marina property.

“You cannot park cars or boats with trailers in the cul-de-sac and meet (Virginia Department of Transportation) or fire code access requirements,” Brown said.

“If our application is turned down for residential zoning, the property will have to be redeveloped under the current business zoning and I don’t think boat ramp parking on Rens Road or on our property will be feasible at that point,” Brown said. “We will need adequate parking on our site for the business uses and fire access to our property.”

The Whitehouse Cove project is now before the Poquoson Planning Commission.

The commission will discuss the development and rezoning request at its meeting Thursday night before making a recommendation to the City Council.

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Copyright (c) 2007, Daily Press, Newport News, Va.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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