Eclipse development sparks backlash

Published 10:40 pm Thursday, August 23, 2018

More than 60 concerned residents from the Eclipse community packed into the Crittenden, Eclipse and Hobson Ruritan Hall on Wednesday evening to get brought up to speed on a development that was only brought to their attention less than a week ago.

Resident Kelly Hengler first noticed crews clearing trees near her Eclipse property this past weekend, she said. Her neighbor, Bill Cary, observed the same thing at his property, and the two of them began researching and sharing information.

The Wednesday meeting was set up within 48 hours of when the community fully realized what’s set to be built in the Eclipse community, Hengler said.

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“Most people don’t know what’s going on, which is how we ended up here tonight,” she said.

According to land transfer reports from the Suffolk Circuit Court Clerk’s Office, 18.326 acres on Eclipse Drive owned by Coastal Virginia Developers LLC was sold to Kirk-Old LLC for $382,500. The transaction was recorded on July 26 with the deed dated on July 23.

Michael Nuckols, of the Faggert and Frieden P.C. law firm in Virginia Beach and the registered agent for Kirk-Old LLC, has not responded to an emailed request for comment as of Thursday evening.

The property will be developed into a 17-home residential community, Suffolk Director of Planning and Community Development David Hainley confirmed at the Wednesday meeting. Cary said that Hainley and others have walked together on the property to get a better scope of the project.

According to Hainley, the minimum zoning for a one-story residence on the property is 1,500 square feet, while a two-story residence is a minimum of 1,600 square feet. This type of development is known as a “cluster subdivision,” which allows for new developments to be directed to less sensitive areas in a subdivision.

“Cluster subdivisions (also sometimes known as “conservation subdivisions”) generally do not increase the overall density of a development but rather allow dwellings to be grouped (or “clustered”) on smaller lots away from sensitive areas such as rivers or defined natural hazard areas,” according to “The key benefit to a developer is smaller lot sizes than otherwise permitted by the subdivision regulations in exchange for the conservation of sensitive lands.”

But how did this development begin without a public hearing or other notice to the residents? The plan for the subdivision was first approved back in 2008, according to Hainley, but the economic crisis prevented any developments at that time.

An amendment to Virginia law in 2017 allowed for any “recorded plat or final site plan” valid under state law to remain valid until July 1, 2020, “or such later date provided for by the terms of the locality’s approval, local ordinance, resolution or regulation, or for a longer period as agreed to by the locality,” according to

“We’re dealing with a lot of backlogged history in the city that had prior approval,” Hainley said. “That’s why it was approved and had sat for so long still in the approval stages.”

Furthermore, according to the Code of Virginia’s “provisions for clustering of single-family dwellings so as to preserve open space,” if proposals comply with the “locality’s adopted standards, conditions, and criteria,” then the development will be permitted “by-right” under the local subdivision ordnance.

“The implementation and approval of the cluster development and open space preservation shall be done administratively by the locality’s staff and without a public hearing,” according to the Code of Virginia.

Members of the community addressed their concerns directly with Hainley, as well as Mayor Linda Johnson and Councilman Mike Duman, who were also present. Those concerns included detriment to their home values, the lack of existing infrastructure for this development such as electricity and the safety of the Resource Protectio Area.

Hainley said that approximately five to six acres of the purchased property is part of the Resource Protection Area. RPAs are tidal and non-tidal wetlands connected by surface flow that require protections to assure water quality, according to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Both Hainley and Cary assured the Wednesday night audience that the development is legally required not to interfere with the RPA.

“You and I need to hold our state and our local representatives accountable for making sure that this subdivision is built in accordance with regulations, and that RPA is protected and that our children and our neighborhood is protected,” Cary said to the crowd.

There were also concerns for the safety of citizens on increasingly tight roadways in the neighborhood. Urban Design Associates prepared a Crittenden/Eclipse Initiatives Plan for the city in September 2002 that outlined the strengths and weaknesses of the area for development.

The streets were characterized as mostly “a series of dead-end” streets, all of which open onto Eclipse Drive, the only access for the village to Route 17. Crittenden Road and Route 17 are the village’s only links to the rest of the city, and according to the 2002 plan, “the ‘one way in, one way out’ was cited as both a strength and a weakness by village residents.”

Jeb Blair lives in one of the oldest homes in Eclipse, built in 1863 according to tax records, Blair said. It’s also right across from where the entrance will be to the new residential development. He said he was concerned with increased traffic at that “blind corner.”

“I’ve lived there for 40 years. I’ve watched young kids die — yes, die — on that curb,” he said.

Hainley explained that the tree clearings residents have witnessed recently are to comply with drainage requirements. He also said that there will be other amenities developed such as a sidewalk.

He said that cul-de-sacs in the neighborhood are designed with firetrucks in mind and that emergency vehicles should be able to operate effectively despite the new development. But that didn’t alleviate the concerns people had for this sudden influx of up to 17 families.

“You’re putting a community inside a community,’ said Lona McKinley, who’s lived in Eclipse her entire life.

“I’ve lived here all my life, and I don’t want to see it be something different than what it is,” Cary said. “The reason you and I are here is because we like to be here. We don’t want to be in the middle of the city. We don’t want to be in the middle of a big subdivision. We want to be in Eclipse and Crittenden.”

Former Mayor E. Dana Dickens was one of the first in the room Wednesday evening to push for residents to form a committee to meet with the developer and present their concerns.

“We say to the developer that we will not fight you if you give us what you think is important to make this project compatible. We don’t have any opportunities here to fight it, so what we’ve got to do is try to compromise,” he said.

This sentiment was echoed by Duman and Johnson.

“It’s going to happen, and (Dana’s) recommendation is a good recommendation,” Duman said. “Rather than doing it from an adversarial standpoint, you’re a lot better off contacting the developer and saying, ‘Look, the citizens of Eclipse have some serious concerns.’”

Several citizens insisted that Johnson extend the invitation to bring the developer to the table, but Johnson suggested otherwise.

“I think it means more for you all to give it because you’re going to live here — right here — and he’s going to know that you’re going be right there the whole time he’s building,” she said.

Hengler said she has collected enough donations to raise the initial $1,000 to $1,500 to hire an environmental attorney to conduct a strategic analysis of the situation, which is expected to take five days to complete. Community members completed checklists at the meeting that evaluated their individual concerns, which will be first introduced to the attorney and then to the developer.

She said that they’re powerful as a community and that this development doesn’t change that.

“This is happening in communities everywhere, not just us, and we have an opportunity to take this passion and contact up higher — much higher — while we try to mitigate and come up with a list of demands,” she said.

The approach of this historic, tight-knit community was best described by their fellow neighbor Curt Young.

“There’s a saying in Eclipse that we’re not nosy, we just pay attention,” he said.