Zimmerman Volk Associates, a real estate marketing firm out of New Jersey, hired by the City of Hampton identified a huge business market in Hampton’s Buckroe Beach. They say Buckroe has potential for 1,950 new housing units with opportunity for some 335 to 395 new high end value condominiums, townhouses, and single family homes on the ten acres of land directly in front of Buckroe Beach City Park. Naturally, that has city developers salivating. Over the years the City of Hampton has been acquiring land in front of the park. Some of it was an amusement park. There was the ignoble social establishment of the Buckroe Surfside inn. A good part of the land is still open field that provides parking for the many beach visitors in the summer. Now vacant of structure, the area is known as Lot B, and is slated for private development according to the City’s community development plans. The plans purvey a pristine upscale community architected on the principles of “New Urbanism” neatly nestled before a bayside park. However, beneath the rosy facade of the community plan, lurks something definitely wrong.
Meet the Green Space Ladies. They have a web-site at www.buckroebeach.org. Phylis Flanders, Sandra Canepa, and Trish Ferraro, long time Buckroe Beach residents see through the City’s new settlement plan, and have taken up the cause to challenge it. They are proposing to keep Lot B public. The want it turned it into a greater Beach Park. Some 11,000 Hampton residents have signed a petition supporting them.
Having been designated for public use back in 1619 by the Virginia Company of London, Buckroe Beach is one of the oldest recreational areas in Virginia. The Green Space Ladies think it should remain so. Trish Ferraro says “families in Hampton work hard to provide for their children, give them good education, teach them work ethic, and instill in them positive values... They don’t take fancy vacations, live in fancy houses, or drive fancy cars... They go to Buckroe to relax.” Handing Lot B over to private residential development effectively takes this long time recreational area away from these people. Local residents will be displaced by the proposed development. The development will close the area off from the rest of Hampton’s residents as well. Under the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, a multi-state agreement, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation is tasked to assure public beaches remain open and accessible to all Virginians and visitors, and not just residents living adjacent to the beach.
Review of the development plans for Buckroe quickly shows how very little parking will be made available, and certainly not near enough to accommodate the numbers of visitors that now come and enjoy the beach. What little parking is designated on the plan is placed in front of current homeowner’s properties, and carves into the existing park. The parking vacuum is what inhibits residents and visitors who live outside the immediate beach area from accessing the beach. More ominous is how land that has always been for public recreation in one form or another is now being subdivided into small private parcels for only a few affluent and fortunate to enjoy. Whether the malice is mere oversight or subtle community cleansing we bear not to know.
The Green Space Ladies have fair reason for concern. Affluent “yuppie” settlement activity has already been taking place in the Buckroe area for some time. Just north of Buckroe Beach lies Malo Beach with Salt Ponds right behind it. A little more then a decade ago both Malo Beach and Salt Ponds were natural areas. There was one lonely road straddling up the beach with a few summer houses on it. Salt Ponds was surrounded by wetlands marsh. Over the course of a few dark nights, the wetlands were suddenly “mitigated” thus making the area “legal” for development. Salt Ponds was dredged, low land filled, green space disposed, and up sprang the gated Salt Ponds communities, and the Salt Ponds marina. Up the once lonely road a new string of beach houses were built. Some of them were reputedly put on publicly owned land. Quite conscientiously, no public parking was provided in any of the developments surrounding Malo Beach. Between the parking vacuum and the gates, the once public Malo beach became for all practical purposes private; reserved for those in the affluent gated community. Sinister one may say. Fitting that the last house on the once lonely road is owned by an entity named “Dark Star”.
It seems to be happening all over. Affluent settlements are popping up on every modest bank under the guise of new urbanism, and driving the long time local residents out. Gates and fences go up to separate the social strata. Norfolk’s Oceanview area is experiencing similar aggressive land redevelopment. Houses are being taken by eminent domain only to be redeveloped not for public purpose, but for private gain. When Oceanview developers attempted to take the Bay Oaks Park for private residential development, local citizens mustered and were able to surmount the aggression. For now development in the small park has been tabled. In Richmond, the city counsel was about to hand over to a developer a beautiful small park on the James River who was going to build luxury apartments on it. The park was finally saved after a public outcry. With the placement of conservation easements on the land by public demand the park is secured for the future. Conservation easements are legal instruments that a city or landowner may place on a property to permanently protect a property’s natural features. Yes indeed, Buckroe is not the only place suffering from developer blight.