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North Main Street park approved

The city will get a new park on property it owns on North Main Street along the Nansemond River after City Council unanimously approved a conditional use permit for it.

The park will go on a three-parcel, 25.9-acre site at 724 North Main St., across from the Hilton Garden Inn Suffolk Riverfront — though just two acres would be used for it.

The park site, which had previously been zoned for general commercial use, has about 420 linear feet of shoreline along the river, and there will be a single entrance off of North Main Street.

Parks and Recreation Director Mark Furlo submitted the application for the park on behalf of the city.

“While this property is prone to flooding, the flooding’s infrequent, and it occurs less than 1% of the time,” Furlo said. “But it’s being designed as a flood-resilient park. We anticipate that there will be times when there’s water on the park and it won’t be usable, but … it’s going to improve the drainage to the park, and everything that we’re putting on there’s going to be resilient to water.”

Furlo said consultants have been out on the park site doing environmental studies. They tried to do some soil borings, but they broke bits on their borings because the ground is compacted and there is gravel underneath it.

“When you look at it, it looks like it’s a nice, grassy field,” Furlo said, “but really under that there’s a lot of gravel and hard surface, and we anticipate that most of that isn’t porous. Part of this project will be returning a majority of that property to a porous surface.”

Planning Director David Hainley said approving the conditional use permit was not approving the site plan for the park. Those will come through future detailed plans, he said.

The park, called Constant’s North Park in planning documents, will be developed in two phases, 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 have live stakes and native shrubs planted to help reduce soil loss and erosion from the river, according to a staff analysis of the project. Phase two of the park will include a 12-space paved parking area, seating and multi-use trails, as well as a plaza and open lawn.

The city bought the property at auction in June 2017 for $325,000. With a 10% buyer’s premium, it paid $357,000.

Furlo told the Planning Commission, which had voted unanimously to recommend the approval of the conditional use permit at its Feb. 16 meeting, that the city’s Capital Improvements Program and Plan for the park had money going toward a phase three for further development of the property to include a boardwalk with fishing platform and observation area on the property. There is $45,000 in fiscal year 2023 and $385,000 in fiscal year 2024 in the CIP for the park.

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

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

“So many citizens have been wanting this for so many years,” said Councilman Donald Goldberg following the March 17 public hearing on the conditional use permit for the park. “And we now have it going to take place. It’s a real plus for the city.”