City proposes park for North Main Street riverfront property

Published 9:45 pm Monday, February 22, 2021

The city could be getting a new park on property it owns on North Main Street along the Nansemond River following the Planning Commission’s recommendation for a conditional use permit.

It is proposing a park on a three-parcel, 25.9-acre site at 724 North Main St., across the river from the Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk Riverfront — though just two acres would be used for that purpose. The site of the park has about 420 linear feet of shoreline along the river and will have one entrance off of North Main Street. The property is currently zoned for general commercial use.

The park, called Constant’s North Park in planning documents, will be developed in two phases, with the first including a living shoreline to replace the existing rocky area currently defining the steep riverbank, which will be backfilled with sand and/or a suitable native soil and then densely planted with a saltwater-tolerant herbaceous vegetation.

The upper high marsh will also have live stakes and native shrubs planted, which according to the staff analysis will reduce soil loss and erosion from the river.

Phase two of the park will include a 12-space paved parking area, seating, and multi-use trails, along with a plaza and an open lawn.

Parks and Recreation Director Mark Furlo said when flooding does occur, the improved grading and landscaping would help in water moving off the property, filtering nutrients and improving the health of the river.
“While that property is prone to flooding,” Furlo said, “the flooding is infrequent and flooding occurs less than 1% of the time and only during the most severe rain storms.”

Furlo said there were no major environmental issues discovered during an environmental assessment the city did on the property. He said his department has been in contact with the city’s Public Works Department, which has a project to address the flooding in that area.

“Our engineers have been in touch with Public Works, so they have coordinated the two projects so that one doesn’t negatively impact the other.

The property came into possession of the city in June 2017 after it had the high bid of $325,000 — with a 10% buyer’s premium, the city paid $357,500 — at auction. It had sat vacant since about 2003 and once was the home of a bulk petroleum plant and a motorcycle dealership.

At the time of its purchase, the city noted the property could play a key role in its efforts to clean up the Nansemond River and beautify the area near the key intersection of North Main Street and Constance Road. The property was on the market for five years, with its sellers receiving three different offers and occasional interest from commercial developers.

Then-City Manager Patrick Roberts said at the time that the open space in and around downtown would continue to be a focal point, and suggested then that a picnic area, a trailhead for a riverfront path or a possible expansion to nearby Constant’s Wharf Park would all be possibilities.

Furlo said the park would be a focal point and a refuge from the heavily commercial corridor surrounding the area.

“All of the amenities and landscaping will be selected,” Furlo said, “in construction in a manner to withstand the infrequent flooding that occurs.”

Commissioner John Rector described the property as an “eyesore,” but said he is pleased to see the city’s Parks and Recreation Department do something with the property.

Commissioner Oliver Creekmore asked about $45,000 in fiscal year 2023 and $385,000 in fiscal year 2024 that is in the city’s Capital Improvements Program and Plan for the park.

Furlo said the city has funding to complete the first two phases of the project, with the CIP money going toward a phase three for further development of the property. According to the CIP, there could also be a boardwalk with a fishing platform and observation area on the property.

The CIP notes that the projected annual operating cost for the park would be $24,940 for maintenance and utilities beginning in fiscal year 2025.

Furlo did not include that in the conditional use permit application because the city does not currently have the funding in place for it.