Study proposes ways to preserve rural beach outpost

Associated Press • Mar 17, 2007 at 11:30 AM

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - From his convenience store in Pungo, Pradip Patel can view strawberry fields that stretch out for acres.

Across the street sits Munden's, a deli-tavern in an early-20th-century building where local farmers come for their coffee and gossip every morning. Life converges at the one light in this farming community.

"This is one of the few places in Virginia Beach that still has the country look," Patel said.

Still, Patel only has to travel less than a mile north of his store to see construction crews putting up a subdivision of large brick homes.

Residential development is likely to push south and pave over Pungo's strawberry fields and horse farms if the city doesn't develop guidelines for the growth, a report by national land-use experts warns.

Last week, the Virginia Beach City Council received a formal presentation of the Urban Land Institute's Pungo Crossing study. The city paid the Washington organization $115,000 to look at ways to update and preserve the rural character of land within a half mile of the Princess Anne and Indian River roads intersection.

Among the institute's study recommendations:

•Limiting development south of Indian River Road to one house for every 15 acres to preserve the agricultural feel of Pungo. The city allows developers to cluster up to five homes to an acre in return for open space around it if certain soil conditions are met.

•Purchasing more undeveloped land for the city's Agricultural Reserve Program.

•Expanding Pungo events, such as the Strawberry Festival.

•Relocating historic homes closer to the Pungo crossroads.

•Moving the city's farmers market to Pungo.

Interim Planning Director Jack Whitney said the city staff will study the recommendations to determine what fits Virginia Beach and how much it will cost.

Councilwoman Barbara Henley, who lives in Pungo, said the institute's suggestions to roll back development to one house for every 15 acres will be tough to sell.

"People would see it as a down-zoning of their property," Henley said.

It may be months before the City Council takes any action on the study's recommendations, but Gene Hansen, who owns 78 acres in Pungo, said he is optimistic.

The study will eventually lead to some guidelines for growth and a master plan for what the city wants Pungo to become, Hansen said.

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