Outlet Shopping Virginia
A lengthy behind-the-scenes squabble between Norfolk and Virginia Beach related to a proposed outlet mall is expected to spill into the public spotlight today.
Virginia Beach planning commissioners will consider whether to support a proposed road that would move shoppers from Northampton Boulevard to the 350, 000-square-foot outlet mall, which Simon Property Group Inc. plans to build on the former site of Lake Wright Golf Course in Norfolk.
The road would be built between Wesleyan Drive and Burton Station Road - on land owned by Norfolk's Economic Development Authority that sits inside Virginia Beach city limits.
The Beach's plans for the Burton Station area call for extending Wesleyan Drive but do not include a road where Norfolk and Simon have proposed building one. In a report that will be presented to the planning commission today, the Beach's staff has recommended against approving the road.
"The reality is, what is proposed is a significant deviation from the plan, " said Doug Smith, a Virginia Beach deputy city manager.
Traffic consultants hired by Norfolk and Simon have said extending Wesleyan Drive and using it to connect to the outlets instead of their proposed road, which they have dubbed Lake Wright Boulevard, would lead to even bigger traffic headaches than the area already has.
But Norfolk and Simon have said they will move forward with that option if the Beach does not allow them to build Lake Wright Boulevard. The extension would be built solely inside Norfolk city limits and would not require the approval of Virginia Beach.
The mall is nearly a year behind schedule. It was originally supposed to open in time for the fall shopping rush, but now it likely won't open until the summer or fall of 2016, said Delceno Miles, a Hampton Roads-based consultant who is representing Simon.
The dispute over the road is the latest in a series of hurdles the outlet mall project has encountered as it moves through the approval process in Virginia Beach.
Initial plans called for building a large stormwater retention pond and a parking lot on the Virginia Beach side of the border, but both have been moved into Norfolk because engineers involved in the project said they were told the Beach would not rezone property to accommodate the structures.
Virginia Beach officials requested several traffic studies because they were dissatisfied with the methodology used by Norfolk's consultants.
Randy Royal, an engineer and vice president of Virginia Beach-based Kimley-Horn and Associates Inc. who has worked extensively on the project on behalf of Simon, said the Beach received "three-and-a-half" studies, and extensive meetings were held with Beach officials to address their concerns. The half study was an addition to one that had already been submitted, he said.
Still, the Virginia Beach City Council passed a resolution in August that requires the city's staff to seek approval from the planning commission and the council before supporting the proposed Lake Wright Boulevard. This is the first time the council has required a review of roads to ensure they are compatible with the city's strategic plans, Smith said.
Beach officials said Tuesday that the city's lack of support is not based on potential traffic problems; rather, it is based on whether the road is compatible with the city's long-term plan for the area.
"A great deal of time, staff resources, citizen engagement went into developing that plan, so there is a lot of ownership... and a lot of very high expectations by the community that the plan that got developed is the one that gets implemented, " Smith said.
Joel Rubin, a local public relations professional who represents Simon, said the Wesleyan Drive extension will cause traffic to be worse, especially as shoppers exit Interstate 64 and weave across Northampton to take a left toward the outlets, he said.
Royal said the mall won't interfere with traffic on Northampton Boulevard when it is at its worst - morning rush hour - because retail stores typically don't open until 10 a.m. The Beach's long-term plan for the area calls for office development, which would only add to morning traffic congestion.