East Beach

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Location: Norfolk, Virginia, USA. Once a tourist destination, now the worst slum in Norfolk

This neighborhood redevelopment project on a 100 acre waterfront site has transformed and revitalized the entire Ocean View peninsula in the northern portion of the City of Norfolk.

The Ocean View section of Norfolk was once a popular tourist destination noted for its beautiful beaches along the Chesapeake Bay. After World War II it began to decline as a result of rapid, un-zoned development which occurred in the vacuum left by military downsizing. By the 1980’s the 100 acre project site at the eastern end of the Ocean View peninsula was the worst slum in Norfolk, containing over 1600 housing units. It was a haven for illegal drug sales and prostitution, costing the City of Norfolk $2 million more annually in health, police and emergency services than were collected in real estate taxes.

A 1998 ULI study recommended that the best way to revitalize this portion of Norfolk was to transform this section of Ocean View into a desirable waterfront neighborhood. The City undertook a long public participation and charrette process to involve all the stakeholders including residents, property owners, civic leagues and community leaders to ensure that their input was considered and their future was guaranteed. The city’s goal was to abate the blight and create a viable neighborhood which would increase the tax base to provide services for the underprivileged areas of the City, while at the same time providing housing options for the few remaining residents who were displaced.

By the time the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA) was prepared to implement the redevelopment plan, most of the properties on the project site were already vacant because there was a significant criminal element in the project site and most of the residents were transient in nature. Numerous options were provided to the remaining approximately 300 families to assist them with relocation: they were offered priority for subsidized housing and their rent was escrowed for 90 days, which was returned to them to cover relocation costs. Only 21 homes were owner occupied and five of those homeowners opted to stay in their existing homes. In one case, the NRHA built a house for a widowed homeowner that had lived there for decades, and in another case they built around a widow that was planning to move to a retirement center in about a year. Additionally, the developer created 434 units of workforce housing (far more than the number of viable units that were removed from the project site) by performing a $20 million renovation of a run down apartment complex in Ocean View. (That renovation was awarded the Tidewater Association of Homebuilders’ award as the most outstanding large property renovation for 2001.)

The master plan for the project site was designed as a mixed use traditional neighborhood development that would preserve existing canopies of mature trees, provide guaranteed long term public access to the beach, and focus on the natural elements and existing mature vegetation of the waterfront site. Concurrently, the City has undertaken a long term commitment to reclaim and maintain the beach and sand dune system along the 71/2 miles of coastline, (3⁄4 of a mile of which borders this site) with a strategy that has become a national model for beach restoration..

The project inspired waves of new construction and renovation in residential and commercial properties along the coast, transforming the entire Ocean View portion of Norfolk and mirroring the historical architecture of the project site, creating a nearly imperceptible transition of housing types along the Ocean View peninsula. Plans are on the drawing board for the final two phases of the project for residential and mixed use, connecting the project site seamlessly with the rest of Ocean View. 2010 brought 32 lot sales and 34 new home sales, prompting the lender to request that the developer proceed to the next (penultimate) phase by summer 2011.

The built result is a critically and financially successful pedestrian-friendly mixed use development that has become a regional destination for those who enjoy the community’s waterfront lifestyle and local events. The extraordinary care taken in implementing the master plan design and the quality housing product has resulted in consistent and strong sales volumes, cementing the sustainability of the project’s contribution to the tax base, and re-establishing the viability of Ocean View. The restored beach was recognized by the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association as one of the Top Restored beaches in the US in 2007. The project site has twice been voted Hampton Roads “Community of the Year”, and in 2008 was named one of the nation’s most visionary projects by Sustainable Land Development International. At build-out, the project is expected to generate over $6 million in annual real estate taxes.

Response to Charter Principles

A unique and imaginative design concept used on this site sets this project apart from many new developments. The master plan called for the existing infrastructure to be shifted to move the existing stands of mature trees from the obscurity of the backyard to the streetscape, and into the public realm for all to enjoy. This bold relocation of infrastructure provides an exemplary illustration of defining the street and public spaces as shared use area for pedestrians, and creates an immediate sense of place. Additionally, it set the stage for the developer to design and implement a variety of parks, tot lots, paths, and greens.

Prior to re-development, the majority of existing stands of mature live oaks and pines were located in the back yards of the site’s parcels. The master planner re-configured the existing street grid by moving the north-south streets eastward 1⁄2 block, which placed the trees along the fronts of yards and in the public realm, forming the basis for a series of linear parks and tree save areas. Existing streets became the alleys, providing access for the rear loaded garages and taking the automobile out of the landscape. The new streets were deliberately jogged around existing canopies of live oaks, pines and other mature vegetation to save the trees and strategically enhance views. This created a safe and interesting environment, where pedestrian activity is greatly increased and dependence on automobiles is decreased. These creative but functional streets give clear priority to trees and pedestrians, and set the stage for the multitude of parks sprinkled throughout the neighborhood.

Tremendous attention to enhancing the public realm is evidenced by the active programming of many of the 15 acres of parks, including the design of public space architecture by a leading architectural firm. The park entrance features, performing arts stage, garden pergola, fountain, clubhouse, tennis courts, and obelisks were all designed to work together to mark the public realm, and to create a unified character for the public spaces, yet each space presents its own identity. They are designed to be used by the residents in both organized and spontaneous manners, and become beloved for generations to come. Low impact recreational activities such as croquet, a putting green, outdoor chess & checkers, tot lots and bocce ball are interspersed throughout the neighborhood.

The finely grained, nearly imperceptible transition of the streetscape from the rural casualness of the beachfront streets, to the urban formality of the marina district offers an interesting nuance on the transect, and works together to greatly enhance the walkability of this integrated network of streets.

At the north end of the site near the beach, the homes are predominantly informal and beachy, featuring grand wide porches, deeper front setbacks, and shingle style architecture. A few blocks south, towards the existing boat yards and marinas, a more urban look is introduced through the use of brick, smaller front setbacks occur, and the architecture leans more towards arts and crafts, and colonial revival.

As the architecture changes from north to south, so does the infrastructure. At the southern, more urban waterfront area, the streets are linear, full height curbs are employed with on-street parking, and sidewalks on both sides parallel the curbs. In 4 gradual, almost imperceptible steps within a few blocks, the streetscape is transformed into a much more casual streetscape as one approaches the bay. In the bay front zone, the curbs are flush with the pavement, the on-street parking has been replaced with gravel parking areas paralleling the street, and the streets themselves become much more narrow and winding, creating an almost whimsical feeling as one walks down the street. Critical infrastructure elements are constructed to consider the human scale, with the use of 12” wide gutter pans, and 4” high curbs, in lieu of the standard 24” pans and 6” high curbs.

The architecture of the homes is carefully managed by a design process that includes a full time town architect, a 5 member design review committee, and an award winning Pattern Book. No two houses are alike. There are 4 vernacular styles fashioned after traditional Tidewater Virginia architecture, (Tidewater Victorian, Arts and Crafts, Tidewater Shingle, and Colonial revival). The homes are designed and built by a 35 member architects guild and a 20 member builders guild. Implementation of the design is enforced with frequent field inspections. Exterior materials are durable, sustainable products designed to have lasting, enduring quality and look natural. No vinyl siding or PVC railings are permitted.

Lessons learned: Financial The NRHA had invested over $50 million in acquiring the land and they were very concerned that they would be “stuck” if the selected developer did not perform adequately. Similarly, the developer was worried about being committed to developing 100 acres of property on the site of a former slum if the initial phases did not sell as expected. The NRHA was concerned that they would be criticized for selling the land too cheaply, while the developer was wary they would pay too much for the land if the project underperformed. A unique methodology was established to permit the municipality to participate in the upside of the land sales to third parties by receiving a percentage of the gross sales price (20%) for each lot, rather than selling the land to the developer for a set price. The development agreement requires that all land be sold at fair market value, and the City must approve of the lot pricing within each phase. The upside to the City is that this makes them a partner in the continued success of the project. The final land price is projected to be nearly 50% more than the original minimum price. The land deal was also structured to protect both the developer and the City by negotiating a unique agreement in lieu of selling the entire parcel outright. At the commencement of each of seven phases, both the City and the developer must agree to continue to the next phase. To further enhance the local government’s hold over the performance of the developer, title to the land is held by NRHA. At lot closings, the title passes directly from NRHA to the lot purchaser. The developer benefits from not having to carry the cost of the land, and the City is assured the developer will execute the project in a manner consistent with the established vision. The City also retains control over the remainder of the land in the event the developer does not fulfill their commitments. With $6.5 million projected in annual property tax revenues, and $11.5 million in direct land sales, the City of Norfolk’s investment of $50 million to acquire the property will be repaid in less than 6 years after project completion. The real value in this investment is the revitalization of the Ocean View peninsula, stimulating new construction and renovations and new retail and commercial development, as well as reclaiming and restoring the beach coastline. The benefits to the City, both tangible and intangible, include reductions in expenditures on police, health and other emergency services; increased property values in the area surrounding the project in a City that is vastly underserved by high end properties; enhanced quality of life in the region; and a sense of pride in the resurgence of an area that was once thought by many to be unrecoverable. Street Network Many of the street sections on this project fell below the state DOT minimum subdivision standards. Particularly affected were the one way streets separated by a park. Since the park was private property, and not a right of way per DOT requirements, the City initially refused to accept these as valid street sections. The developer successfully argued that the actual impact to the City for accepting non-conforming street sections was that the state would not provide annual maintenance funds to the City for those substandard sections. Using the reimbursement rate of $16,000 per lane mile, (roughly $3.00 per linear foot/lane), the developer was able to convey to the City that by accepting these sections as public streets, they were only forfeiting $4800 per year in revenue from the state. Based on that information, the City agreed to accept all of the project streets, saving the developer from having to privatize them, or worse, having to alter the street designs.

Transect Zone(s): T4 general.
Status: 51-75% Built
Project or Plan's Scale: Neighborhood
Features: Waterfront.
Land area (in acres): 100
Total built area (in sq. ft.):
Total project cost (in local currency): 5.77e+08
Retail area (in sq. ft.):
Office area (in sq. ft.):
Industrial area (in sq. ft.):
Number of hotel units:
Number of residential units (include live/work): 700
Parks & green space (in acres): 17
Residential types: Low-rise flats, Townhouse/rowhouse/maisonette, Small lot detached.
Project team designers: East Beach Company, LLC
Project team developers: N/A

Previous site status:

Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: -