Residents meet with Eclipse developer

Published 10:32 pm Tuesday, September 18, 2018

In the week before Suffolk was swept up in preparations for Hurricane Florence, Eclipse residents Bill Cary and E. Dana Dickens — a former Suffolk mayor — met with Justin Old of Kirk-Old LLC, the developer behind the project that shocked residents when it was first brought to their attention only recently.

According to Cary, the three of them met at the construction site on Eclipse Drive before sitting down at Cary’s home to discuss the many concerns residents have regarding this new housing community in the heart of their close-knit, waterside community.

Cary said the conversation was a “positive” step forward and that Old seemed willing to work with the residents to make the development as amenable as possible.

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“He seemed very agreeable, there’s no question about that,” Cary said in a phone interview on Sept. 10.

Kirk-Old LLC arrived in Eclipse to develop “Chuckatuck Cove,” a 17-home residential community. 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 Chuckatuck Creek, and developers benefit from smaller lot sizes in exchange for the conservation of sensitive lands, according to

The development was first approved back in 2008, but housing prospects weren’t nearly as attractive at the time given the country’s economic woes. An 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 later if agreed to by the locality, according to

Also, 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 ordinance.

“They’re kind of in the driver’s seat,” Cary said. “What we have to do is work with the developer to make the subdivision as community-friendly as we can make it, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

Cary and Dickens explained in great detail to Old what “community-friendly” means to them and addressed a few concerns in talking with Old.

“I addressed what I could there, and we’re going work through some answers with them moving forward,” Old said in a phone interview on Tuesday.

Cary learned that the “Chuckatuck Cove” residences are expected to be Craftsman-style homes, and after looking at the plans and other homes built by the developer in the past, Cary and Dickens agreed that the style would fit within the eclectic Eclipse community.

“We felt the style would blend in nicely for the community,” he said.

Old was receptive to several suggestions meant to improve the development for both new and existing residents, Cary said. That includes planting trees that will grow tall and obscure the rear of the new homes for a more attractive view going down Eclipse Drive.

“I certainly didn’t make any concrete decisions, but we want to work through that stuff with them,” Old said.

They talked about the amount of dust created by the machines and whether a watering truck was on site to reduce dust buildup. Concerns like debris falling out of uncovered work trucks were also raised and met with more assurances from Old.

Old was also open to the idea of renaming the development so that it would seem less isolated from the longtime Eclipse residents.

“We feel that the people who move into those homes need to be part of our community just like we’re parts of the community,” Cary said. “We don’t want to separate them from the community with a name.”

But the issue of stormwater management is still on the table.

At the Sept. 6 meeting among Eclipse residents gathered at Crittenden, Eclipse and Hobson Ruritan Hall, Cary and Kelly Hengler — Cary’s neighbor and one of the lead organizers for the community’s response — pointed out a drain pipe on the west side of the development that flows directly into the creek.

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, according to an eco-consultant that was hired to evaluate the situation.

The community is suggesting that the retention pond be replaced by several “rain gardens,” a system of bio-retention that would be 80- to 85-percent effective. The gardens would also remove the risk of mosquito trouble from the pond’s standing water, and trees, bushes and flowering plants in each garden would improve the overall greenspace within the development.

Old couldn’t agree to the gardens during their meeting because he wasn’t sure that everyone on his end would approve the idea. More importantly, the development has already moved past that point for change, Old said.

“It’s kind of hard to back up and punt at this stage in the game,” Old said. “That change will be a little more difficult to try and incorporate into the plan. It’s under development (and) it’s hard to change and go back through the approval process for something like that.”

Tensions have boiled over in some instances since crews began digging and clearing trees. Old noted that there have been cases of vandalism at the construction site, such as the tearing down of silt fences that Cary mentioned during one of the recent meetings at the Ruritan Hall.

“Those guys are out there working and trying to make a living. They don’t have a dog in the fight,” Old said.

Old emphasized that he and his people would do their best to work with the community to alleviate their concerns.

“Obviously development and change are certainly something that people aren’t always welcoming with open arms, (but) I assured them that we weren’t trying to hinder the community. We’re just trying to add to it,” he said.

Cary also urged residents to be civil toward the construction crews and instead focus on their goals for improving the situation for longtime residents. These locals have organized into workgroups, spreading the word and pressing each issue for support.

They’ve appealed to Gov. Ralph Northam, senators and congressman for support, Hengler wrote in an email. In a letter Cary wrote to Delegate Chris Jones, he argues that the greenspace upside of this development is limited by the Resource Protection Area included on the site.

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. 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, and that the development is legally required not to interfere with the RPA.

“The rationale is that there will be more green space in the cluster subdivision. In some cases, this rationale is correct,” Cary wrote to Jones. “In the case of Chuckatuck Cove, it is not correct because part of the RPA is used in calculating green space required in the cluster subdivision. Using any of the RPA as green space in a cluster subdivision doesn’t lead to more green space in that type of development.”

The “Crittenden-Eclipse Village Preservation” page on Facebook has been a beacon of activity since it was first established in late August, and remains active with more than 680 followers as of Monday evening.

“This is an extraordinary response for our tiny rural village,” Hengler wrote.

Cary said the next step for the residents is to continue working with Kirk-Old LLC to make this residential community the best it can be, both for the families moving in and for the many others that have called Eclipse home for generations.

“That’s what we want. It’s not what we’ve chosen, but it’s what we have and we want to make the best of it,” he said. “We hope that we will have good neighbors, and we want to be good neighbors.”