Chesapeake residents voicing concerns over city’s vision for “mega-site” on farmland

CHESAPEAKE, Va. - City council voted to continue a vote on changing the city's vision to include a mega-site on farmland on Route 17, right before the North Carolina border.

City council will vote now vote on a resolution to amend the city's 2035 comprehensive plan by revising the land use plan, to identify a  portion of the Frank T. Williams Farms properties for commercial, industrial, or similar non-residential designation, such as light industrial/logistics on August 15th.

In summary, this means that city council could change their city's vision to include a plan for 25% of the 4,000-acre farmland to become a "mega-site."

A mega-site would be a facility where a major company like Apple or Ford could manufacture their products.

"It doesn’t change the designation of the land, the land will still be agricultural, it just changes the plan for the city that says 'this would be a good idea,'" says Councilman Roland Davis Jr.

Councilman Davis says the state has already designated the property as a "unique economic development opportunity."

This puts the city of Chesapeake on the map for major corporations to consider building a facility.

Back on December 30th, some residents started a closed group on Facebook, "#StopDevelopingSouthernChesapeake," which already has more than 1,500 members.

They also started an online petition on Change.org last week that has more than 500 signatures, which says:

"Urge our city council members to vote NO to the amendment to the comprehensive plan that will allow an industrial mega-site on the Frank T. Williams farm tract located on Highway 17 and Ballahack Road.

Save our local history, culture, environment, wetlands, drinking water, and country living.

This proposal has the potential to turn Ballahack Road into a four-lane highway, increasing flooding in our area, impact drinking water, threaten wild life (including endangered species), and threaten two historic places listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks. It will also lead to massive housing development in that area which will burden our schools, infrastructure and first responders."

A resident who signed the petition, Jennifer Knight, says she is concerned about the proximity of the Great Dismal Swamp to the proposed mega-site and the endangered wildlife.

"They could suffer dire consequences if this industrial development comes to fruition," she says.

Others are concerned that this site is upstream from a water treatment plant, where water becomes drinkable for the city.

They are also worried about overcrowding. According Chesapeake Public Schools' reports, 16 of their schools are already overcrowded.

However, the project will be strictly commercial, not residential.

"We're just continuing on the same path we've been on that hasn't been successful," says David Schleeper, another resident.

The city did a survey back in December of 2016 about the project, asking "What non-residential land use designation would best fit the Williams Tract Unique Economic Development Opportunity (UEDO?)"

Out of the 448 people that responded, 63.7% voted for "other."

They survey also asked "what types of industry or business should be sought for the Williams Tract UEDO?"

The highest response, 38.7%, voted for "leave alone/agricultural."

Councilman Davis says any proposal for a project on the site would require a ton of vetting and discussions, including talks with environmental agencies.

Additionally, city council would have to vote on every piece of the project before it would move forward.

City Councilman Robert Ike Jr. says the project, if it were to happen, would benefit the residents more than anyone between job growth and tax revenue.

"We need something along the lines of a Greenbrier that is the economic engine of the city, this will be the secondary engine of the city," he says. "I think this will be a really good moving forward for Chesapeake."