City: No water access at Obici

Published 9:37 pm Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The city’s Economic Development Department has already said water access isn’t feasible at the old Obici Hospital site, but it now says it doesn’t even own any frontage on the Nansemond River at the site.

After further research, it has determined that the thin strip of land it thought it owned stretching from the old hospital site to the Nansemond River actually belongs to the Virginia Department of Transportation, on the south side, and to residential property owners on the north side, in the Riverwood Trace cul-de-sac.

Economic Development Director Kevin Hughes said the discovery came via looking at a property survey done by the Virginia Department of Transportation last year.

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“We’re all basically in agreement that this is the ownership,” he told the Economic Development Authority during its Wednesday meeting. “We do not have access to the water.”

Hughes said a small creek runs into the site from the river, but it is “probably difficult to navigate.” He had previously said marshy conditions would have made water access difficult, anyway.

The new information is a blow to a vocal contingent of citizens who have been lobbying for a community park with water access on the site. There would still be plenty of room for land-based park amenities, but Hughes said the city is moving ahead with its plans for a commercial development.

“We’ll have open space in our development,” he said after Wednesday’s meeting.

The city eventually hopes to acquire the VDOT parcel also, as the transportation department is looking to move its Hampton Roads regional office. However, there are no solid plans for the move yet.

The city has owned the site at 1900 N. Main St., the former site of Obici Hospital, since about 2005. It has languished for years during many false starts at development.

The Economic Development Authority now owns the site and hopes to have it rezoned to a mixed-use development. It is now zoned for general commercial development.

The EDA is under contract to sell about 14 acres at the back portion of the site to Waverton Associates for a 224-apartment complex. Retail and office space are planned for the front portion.

Proponents of the park say there’s too much traffic on North Main Street already to add more to it; that there are rare trees on the site that need to be preserved; and that the park would be a fitting tribute to Amedeo Obici, the Planters Peanuts founder who named the original Louise Obici Memorial Hospital after his wife and whose legacy lives on in the Obici Healthcare Foundation.

But the city, through Hughes’ statements, notes it wants to recoup its investment in the property and points out that the Lake Meade Park, behind the Farm Fresh shopping center, is about 1,500 feet away and features a playground, dog park, skate park, tennis courts, walking trails, picnic tables and other amenities.