Some neighbors of the now-defunct Owl’s Creek Golf Center are trying to wrap their heads around what could be coming to the property across the street from their homes: a manufacturing facility.
On one hand, it could bring more than 1,000 jobs to the city, including employment for some Seatack residents.
But on the other, the quiet setting – a golf course with tall pine trees – could go away.
Council members will vote on rezoning the city-owned property Tuesday.
The land, on the west side of Birdneck Road and next to the Virginia Beach Animal Care & Adoption Center, is split between light industrial and residential zoning. It’s encumbered by a Navy air rights easement. Homes and other high-density development can’t be built there.
The city wants to change it to conditional industrial, a use that will be quiet and environmentally friendly, officials say. Electromechanical batteries and military components would be made at the plant, according to a report presented to the Planning Commission in November.
The company, which was not named, plans to invest more than $50 million in the project and create 1,100 jobs with average salaries of $70,000. The owner has committed to a program that would train people in the neighborhood to work there, according to the city.
Representatives of the Seatack Community Civic League have vetted the plans and stepped forward at November’s Planning Commission meeting to voice their support. For years, the community spoke out against industrial development, particularly on the east side of Birdneck Road.
Gary McCollum, a former state senate candidate, and E. George Minns, president of the civic league, told commissioners they’re in favor of the project.
But several residents who live across the street from the driving range had reservations about traffic, environmental impacts and noise.
“They said they don’t anticipate noise being a factor,” Cheryl Walsh, who lives on Carissa Court, told commissioners at the November meeting. “They don’t anticipate it, but I would really like more of a guarantee than that. The additional traffic will, of course, create noise.”
Some wondered: Why Birdneck Road?
“We have many industrial areas already here in Virginia Beach,” said Robert Bautista, who lives on Owl’s Creek Lane. “We have many empty warehouses off of International Parkway that could really handle a type of business like this and still keep the 1,100 jobs in Virginia Beach.”
But land for a 500,000- square-foot facility is hard to come by, said Randy Royal of Kimley-Horn, the design and engineering company working with Virginia Beach for the project. The developer was considering another city before the Owls Creek property became available, Royal said.
The two-story building will be 300 feet – about a football field – from Birdneck Road, with a large parking lot and heavy landscaping.
It would replace most of the land now occupied by the driving range and club house and could be operational in 2019. A right turn lane into the facility would be added. According to a city traffic study, Birdneck Road is currently at 50 percent capacity. The factory will have three shifts for its employees.
The Navy approves the use, Royal said.
Commissioner Karen Kwasny asked if a park could be created there. The developer needs the area to be secure, Royal said, but he wants to keep the setting as natural as possible, and has even considered recreating some of the golf holes. Seatack Park is close by.
Nancy Braithwaite owns most of the golf course – about 40 acres , which are still for lease. The developer has expressed interest in renting some of the Braithwaite property, according to attorney Eddie Bourdon. And the land could be rezoned industrial in the future, he said.
Owl’s Creek Golf Course opened in 1987. Merv Troyer had been leasing the driving range and golf course from the city and Braithwaite until last May.
Hundreds of people have signed online petitions to preserve the open space and protect wildlife. Great Neck Creek, part of the Lynnhaven River watershed, extends into the golf course property.
Chad Burns is one of more than 800 people who wants to create a disc golf course in the existing natural setting.
“There’s just a lot of good that can be done with that area in keeping all the beautiful things that are there,” Burns said.