Veterans’ center slated for Suffolk

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Buddy Joyner and Michael Tacoronte present plans for a veterans’ rehabilitation center off Pitchkettle Road, to a gathering of veterans at Bunny’s Restaurant Wednesday.

As the scars of war mount after a decade of conflict in the Middle East, a Suffolk man plans to develop a 101-acre rehabilitation center for veterans on Pitchkettle Road, which his project partner says would be the first of its kind in America.

Plans for the Veterans’ Care Initiative, as the project is dubbed, include single-family homes, townhouses and apartments, a “healing center,” and employment opportunities to get wounded warriors back in the workforce and self-reliant again.

Buddy Joyner said he and his four siblings decided to pursue the unique project when their mother, an amputee, died leaving behind 67 acres of land near U.S. Route 58.

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“My mother wanted her property to be used for something constructive, not just another housing project,” he said.

Joyner and his siblings are committed to “try to make this whole thing a positive thing, not just another money-maker.”

According to plans presented at a gathering of veterans at Bunny’s Restaurant Wednesday, the project would include medical, rehabilitation, exercise, recreational, training, educational and mental health facilities, cultural and community centers, a civil assembly hall, and a place of worship.

“What we’re trying to do is bring these guys in, many of whom haven’t known anything but war … (and) give them a place to live while being rehabilitated,” said Norfolk real estate agent Michael Tacoronte, Joyner’s project partner.

Private businesses would be co-opted to employ veterans and help make the project, which would also rely on donations, self-sufficient, Tacoronte said.

Bon Secours has expressed interest in developing some of the facilities, he said, adding that much of the site is already zoned for commercial use, but some rezoning will be required.

Adjoining landowners would provide the portion of the development site not bequeathed by Joyner’s mother, Tacoronte added.

“We don’t want to close it off to make it a world upon their own,” he said. “We don’t want to create a welfare state for wounded warriors; we really want to rehabilitate them.”

Landscape architecture and environmental engineering firm Patton Harris Rust & Associates has been contracted to develop plans for the project.

These plans will be presented to the Wounded Warrior Project in September, and have already been discussed with the city of Suffolk, Tacoronte said.

If things progress smoothly, Tacoronte said, ground will be broken on the project within a year.

He cited drainage as one challenge faced, and the improvement of Pitchkettle Road another.

“There are no other … (such facilities) in the United States like this,” Tacoronte said. “The only thing that the federal government has anything close to this is behind a fence … inside a naval station.”

Though his mother was made disabled by an accident, she worked until the age of 72 and “her philosophy was we all can be rehabilitated, whatever our situation is,” Joyner said. “She lived alone and took care of herself.

“I believe every person on this earth, no matter how damaged, has the potential to be a productive citizen.”