Residents weigh in on uses for land

Published 10:35 pm Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The former Driver Naval Radio Transmitting Facility off of Sleepy Hole Road could end up being many things, but don’t expect it to be something that will draw high traffic volumes to it.

City Parks and Recreation Director Mark Furlo and consultants helping shape the vision for the 380-acre park, currently dubbed the Driver Sports Complex or Driver Sportsplex, said at an informational meeting Thursday that deed restrictions along with road capacity issues would prevent such things.

“Any funds that are made at the property have to stay or be reinvested into the property,” Furlo said. “So any money made out there has to be directly put back into the property. … We know the roads are an issue, and we know we can’t accommodate big events or things that are going to generate a lot of traffic to that property.”

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Furlo, along with the consultants, held a pair of public meetings last week to gather public interest on developing the park for outdoor recreation, sports, conservation education, passive recreation and water activities. About 75 people turned out for the two meetings, held at the East Suffolk Recreation Center and at the North Suffolk Public Library.

This is part of the city’s update of its Master Plan for Driver Sports Complex. In that plan, it looked at recreational facilities across the city, but it also got community feedback, according to Steve Torgerson, director of landscape architecture and design with A. Morton Thomas and Associates. Some of those suggestions included more walking and biking facilities, more picnic areas, fitness facilities, playgrounds, indoor walking and running tracks, indoor swimming pools, a riverfront trail, gymnasium, outdoor amphitheater and environmental education center. Torgerson said about half of the property could be developed if that’s what residents choose.

“We have not designed anything yet,” Torgerson said. “We have not even drawn a road on a plan. What we’re here to do is talk about types of experiences you would like to have in your community.”

The city was deeded the project site after the 1993 Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission recommended closing the former transmitting facility.

Torgerson showed slides of possible uses for inspiration and received public feedback. Some suggested with its proximity to the Nansemond National Wildlife Refuge, it should stay a natural area. Others suggested recreation such as ballfields or camping.

“That’s what we’re taking into consideration,” Torgerson said. “It’s also (about) the level of play. Each athletic field potentially has different type of play. If it’s some of the locals that are coming in and playing, it’s not as big. If it’s a full-blown, weekend, or week-long tournament, that could become more problematic. We will gear it towards the type of play. If ballfields are here and a part of this, we will gear it toward what the infrastructure can handle.”

Furlo said an athletic complex as part of the site may not be the best use for it due to the deed restrictions. Plus, the nearest hotels to handle tournament-type events are in Chesapeake and wouldn’t generate revenue for Suffolk. He said the property could stay a natural area if that’s what residents want.

Others suggested a name change for the site to include ‘Nansemond’ somewhere in its naming.

Torgerson said referring to the site as the Driver Sports Complex doesn’t accurately reflect what the site could handle.

“I think that we need to be careful when we use the name Driver Sportsplex as the name,” Torgerson said.

He said a proposal for the site would likely reach City Council by spring 2020.

“Assuming it goes to council in the spring, and the plan is adopted,” Furlo said, “we would then take that plan and, at about this time next year, we would use that plan. They would provide us with estimates for anything that would go in there and we would use those estimates to plug into the Capital Improvements Plan.”