At the turn of the 20th Century, Ocean View Amusement Park in Norfolk, Va., was a big draw for residents of the Hampton Roads region. They flocked to the boardwalk and roller coaster via both streetcar and ferry, happy to soak up the sun and smell the salt air (generated not by an ocean, exactly, but by the mighty Chesapeake Bay). “It was a kind of Great Gatsby–like destination,” says D. B. “Bart” Frye Jr., a managing partner with East Beach Co., developers of East Beach, a new 100-acre TND built on the peninsula that was once home to Ocean View. “For years and years, it was a wonderful place.”
Fast-forward to the end of the century. By then, after a huge expansion of population during World War II (Norfolk is home to the U.S. Atlantic Fleet and the largest naval base in the world), Ocean View had fallen into disrepair. In place of the vibrant beach resort were 1,600 dilapidated residential units, owned primarily by absentee landlords. “Ten years ago, a cab wouldn't take a fare to Ocean View and a pizza driver wouldn't deliver,” says Frye. Military police were allowed to arrest service personnel just for being at Ocean View, which had more than its share of drugs, prostitutes, and violent crime. The city was spending $2.5 million to $3 million a year on public safety issues alone.
Ocean View's slide into slum status especially irked Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim and W. Randy Wright, Ocean View's representative on the Norfolk City Council. The two men were a big part of a $50 million citywide effort to obtain title to the land and clear the 100 acres for development.
Another prominent player in the redevelopment of Ocean View was the No rfolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority (NRHA). Founded in 1940, the NRHA has a long history of innovative redevelopment and is one of the few municipal authorities in the country that not only oversees housing management but also handles significant residential and commercial development.
PRACTICAL PARTNERSHIP In 1994, the NRHA started the ball rolling by engaging Miami-based Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. and holding a planning charrette for what would become East Beach. Collaborating on the project was Ray Gindroz of Pittsburgh-based Urban Design Associates, the city of Norfolk's longtime planning consultant.
East Beach is bounded on the north by the Chesapeake Bay; on the east by an existing single-family development; on the south by Pretty Lake, a marina; and on the west by a well-traveled street called Shore Drive. The master plan that emerged for the new TND created a new street grid (see site plan, below), with all of the north-south streets getting shifted a half block to the east. The existing streets became the alleys. This not only provided rear access for garages but also placed the mature trees toward the front of the new streetscape, a boon for the community's front yards and a series of small public parks.
The character of the neighborhood changes from north to south, going from predominantly residential near the Bay to increasingly urban toward the marina at the south end of the project. Here, the plan calls for a “Little Annapolis” of sorts, a nod to Maryland's capital city on the Bay, with apartments over marina-related shops, restaurants, and a plaza or market square. An unusual feature of the East Beach plan is the use of bayfront greens: Every north-south street meets the Bay, with public access to the beach provided by paths or one of the greens. Homes facing the greens enjoy expansive views of the Bay.
At build-out, which is expected within seven to 10 years, there will be 700 residential units, including single-family detached and attached homes, condominiums, and cottages, plus 150,000 square feet of commercial space. So far, 155 homes have been built, and amenities include a bayfront club, pocket parks, and a Montessori school.
In 2000, with a preliminary master plan in hand, the NRHA embarked on an RFQ (request for quotation) process. Several local development groups responded, along with an out-of-town team specializing in new urbanist development, led by LeylandAlliance of Tuxedo, N.Y. The Leyland-Alliance team was favored by the NRHA, but political leaders wanted a local group also to be involved. As a result, a joint venture was formed by LeylandAlliance and East Beach Renaissance, a local development group. East Beach Co. (EBC) was designated as the master developer.
The NRHA and EBC then came up with an interesting financing deal. The NRHA owned the site outright, having used city funds, raised over the years through annual allocations, to buy the land. EBC paid market rate for the parcel but gives 20 percent of each lot sale back to the NRHA. “That way,” says Frye, “if we hit it out of the park, they do too. They've done extraordinarily.” Frye estimates the final amount may be 50 percent more than what the city first expected to get. “On a bad day, the total [value] at build-out will be about $450 million, with a return to the city of new tax dollars of more than $6 million a year.”
Not bad for a part of town that was once almost written off as lost.
LEAP OF FAITH Much of the success of East Beach can be directly traced to the buy-in by city officials. They believed in the principles of new urbanism and have given the developers and East Beach's town architect a wide degree of latitude when it comes to design approval as well as zoning and variance issues. “It was a huge leap of faith for the city to come to a developer and not tell us what we were going to do, but said, ‘You tell us what you need, and we'll make that happen,' ” says Rock Bell, EBC general manager. “We've been fortunate to have backing at the highest level.”
“We will remain close to what Andrés [Duany] originally drew with the master plan, which is highly unusual,” says Frye. “Everybody had to back up and rethink what they were used to. Forget conventional cul-de-sacs and street right-of-ways. We weren't stopped at every turn by the normal public works–type thinking.”
Project: East Beach, Norfolk, Va.; Size: 100 acres; Unit size: 300 (garage rental apartments) to 6,000 square feet; Total units: 700; Price: $600 (monthly garage apartment rents) to $2.85 million; Builders: East Beach Builders Guild, includes 21 companies (full list available at BUILDER Online); Developer: East Beach Co., Norfolk (a partnership between East Beach Renaissance, Norfolk, and LeylandAlliance, Tuxedo, N.Y.); Architects: East Beach Design Professionals Guild, includes 44 firms (full list available at BUILDER Online); Land planners: Duany Plater-Zyberk & Co. (master planner), Miami; Urban Design Associates (design guidelines), Pittsburgh; Landscape architects: Stephanie Bothwell, Washington; CMSS Architects, Virginia Beach, Va.; Interior designers: Design Consultants, Virginia Beach; Gilbert Interiors, Virginia Beach; and CMSS Architects, Virginia Beach
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Virginia Beach, VA.