Eclipse seeks ‘best way forward’

Published 11:09 pm Friday, September 7, 2018

As trees fall and concerns in the neighborhood continue to grow, residents of the Eclipse community met once again at the Crittenden, Eclipse and Hobson Ruritan Hall on Thursday evening. It was the third such meeting in the few short weeks since they became aware of a stunning development.

Trees are being cleared for a 17-home residential community known as “Chuckatuck Cove.” Land transfer reports from the Suffolk Circuit Court Clerk’s Office state that 18.326 acres on Eclipse Drive owned by Coastal Virginia Developers LLC was sold to Kirk-Old LLC for $382,500, a transaction that was recorded on July 26 with a deed dated on July 23.

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. Dwellings are clustered on smaller lots away from sensitive areas such as rivers. For developers, that means smaller lot sizes in exchange for the conservation of sensitive lands, according to

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The development was first approved back in 2008, but the turbulent economy wasn’t conducive to housing prospects then. Amendment to Virginia law in 2017, however, 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

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.

That’s what Bill Cary, one of the first Eclipse residents to notice clearing activity along with his neighbor, Kelly Hengler, explained to more than 40 attendees at the Thursday night meeting. Cary spoke to Councilman Mike Duman, who then spoke with the city attorney’s office and ended up with the same confirmation as before — that the permit was still good.

“That’s what the state legislature did. They extended that permit from 2008 until 2020, and that, to my way of thinking, is kind of the nail driven in the coffin,” Cary said. “That’s what gives us a real problem in trying to force something. We don’t have anything that they can really force at this time.”

But that doesn’t mean residents aren’t acting as fast as they can. Hengler and others have gone through phone directories and social media via the Crittenden-Eclipse Village Preservation Facebook page to arrange several workgroups. Some of them go throughout the neighborhood to explain what’s going on to residents that don’t have internet access, Hengler said.

Their concerns vary, and, according to Cary, some have been addressed. The recent tree clearings, for instance, are to comply with drainage requirements, and residents have been concerned about what will be done with the refuse after the trees come down.

Cary reassured his neighbors that the refuse is not being burned or ground up and left on site. It’s being removed entirely, and crews have also done a good job of keeping the roads clear of debris, Cary said. There was also a demand that traffic be strictly enforced with the added work trucks winding down tight Eclipse roadways, and Cary said that’s very much been the case.

“I’ve noticed, and I know you’ve probably noticed, that there’s more police presence in Eclipse than I’ve ever seen,” he said, followed by laughs from his audience. “We have to watch ourselves and don’t speed. We’ll be the ones that get the tickets.

“But that’s good that the police are here and enforcing the laws,” he continued. “We don’t want the traffic to be delayed. We don’t want to have those trucks and earthmoving machines on the roads and have our roads torn up.”

But there’s still many concerns left on the table, such as the Resource Protection Area.

Resource Protection Areas 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. Suffolk Director of Planning and Community Development David Hainley explained at the Aug. 22 meeting that approximately five to six acres of the purchased property is part of the protection area.

The development is legally required not to interfere with the Resource Protection Area. However, Cary and Hengler pointed out what appears to be a drain pipe on the west side of the development flowing directly into the creek without filtration.

That pipe is coming from a dry retention pond underground that’s based on the current storm water plan for the site, according to Cary. The pond, however, is only 5- to 10-percent effective at removing contaminants, as confirmed by an eco-consultant that was hired to evaluate the situation, Hengler said.

“This was 2006 technology, and we’re not trying to get everybody stirred up, but it’s a fact that this is only 5- to 10-percent effective,” Hengler said. “That leaves 90- to 95-percent pollution going down that ravine.”

The argument was made for a new system of bio-retention that would be 80- to 85-percent effective. It’s a “rain garden” similar to others throughout the city that have been established by the Nansemond River Preservation Alliance and its partners.

NRPA President Elizabeth Taraski told the attendees that she will contact the state department for further advice on the regulatory policies concerning the development. She also expressed support for the community in which the NRPA has been headquartered for some time, right inside the Ruritan Hall.

“What you’re doing here is going to make this a very successful program, because what we learned is that the state agencies are going to come in and do what they can, but it’s up to the citizens here,” she said. “There are limited resources up in the state level, so it’s up to you.”

The Eclipse community is steeped in the history of local watermen, a tradition that lives on to this day. Myra Martin’s husband is a retired waterman, and there are many others that still live in this village, she said.

“I would ask for the bio-system to be put in place and to knock out the retention pond,” Martin said. “The people in the neighborhood care about that, and I hope the developer does as well.”

Claudia Holland’s family goes back several generations in Eclipse, and she has a small oyster bed on her property, a little more than eight acres, she said. She just had new oysters for the first time in decades, and they serve a crucial role in filtering pollutants in the creek.

“I just want somebody to tell me for sure that my oyster bed is not going to be messed up,” she said. “I just want assurances that you’re not going to kill my oysters. It’s not my livelihood, but it’s still the health of the creek.”

It’s not just environmental concerns for Eclipse residents. The community has fostered a rich reputation of eclectic styles, with golf carts going up and down the streets and neighbors comfortable with each other’s way of living. The annual Fourth of July celebration is indicative of the neighborhood’s flair.

Residents like Chris Warner are concerned that will change if a new community is planted right in the middle of the neighborhood.

“It doesn’t seem appealing to have this close to your house,” he said beside the fenced-in clearing of bare land and machinery on Eclipse Drive.

Residents are working together to find the best way forward, and Cary urged them to stay on their best behavior to make this as good of a situation as they can make it.

“It is important — and I can’t emphasize this enough — that we try to be on the good side of these people that are out there doing the clearing,” Cary said. “I don’t want to be rude (or) disrespectful. I don’t want to write threatening notes to them. I don’t want to tear down silt fence or anything like that.”

Former mayor and fellow resident E. Dana Dickens was there to encourage a discussion with Justin Old of Kirk Old LLC to make this as attractive an arrangement as possible for the community.

“Hopefully we can get him to share our love for this community and what it looks like to try and make his development blend in as much as possible, and design criteria is a big piece of it,” he said.

While members of the community begin discussions with the developer, others are hard at work to attain a historical designation for the Eclipse neighborhood, just like that of nearby Hobson.

Hengler has been collecting accounts by waterman families on Facebook, working with the Mariners Museum and scanning for more information in texts like the “The River Binds Us,” a historical account of the Crittenden, Eclipse and Hobson communities published by Suffolk River Heritage.

Their goal is to take this information and apply for recognition of the site on the National Register of Historic Places. Hengler said the Eclipse community is cited in the Hobson designation, because the two are tightly bound watermen communities.

“We are listed in their national historic registry as cited because they worked hand-in-hand here with the watermen to work right after the Civil War,” Hengler said. “We are cited and therefore we are going to work through the process. Now is that going to protect us? Who knows? But at this point we need to be able to document our history.”

As the residents contact representatives such as Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and Congressman Bobby Scott to voice their concerns, they’re also educating themselves on the best way forward.

“We’ve said from the beginning that the best thing to do was to get information and inform ourselves. That’s exactly what we’re doing, and what we’re going to continue to do,” Hengler said.

Visit the Crittenden-Eclipse Village Preservation page on Facebook for more information.