For more than a decade, the city has been working to turn a busy intersection in the heart of Kempsville from an eyesore into a community hub that pays tribute to the area’s historic roots.
The long journey to transform the area where Princess Anne, Kempsville and Witchduck roads meet began with a $90 million road project that realigned the intersection and stretched it to six lanes, pushing Princess Anne further south.
Two other projects changed the landscape: On the southeast corner, the city built Kempes Landing Park, a grassy expanse punctuated by a white, domed gazebo. And on the new southwest side of the intersection, a developer converted an empty school into luxury apartments called 525 Historic Kempsville.
Next up? The northeast corner, stretching from Princess Anne and Witchduck to Bonney Road, where an abandoned bank, business strip and fire station dot the landscape.
City planners envision a commercial center there with walking paths, canopy trees and parks. They picture medical offices, stores, two parking garages, apartments and possibly even a senior living complex and a specialty grocer.
The city has found a developer interested in building the project on that corner but has not discussed the deal in public. According to a presentation given to the City Council in closed session, the builder asked for discretion while it tries to persuade nearby property owners to sell their land.
During two closed meetings, one in January 2016 and the other last month, the council said it was committed to working with Robinson Development Group and Parham & Associates Inc.
No other companies showed interest in the project, Economic Development Director Warren Harris said.
But significant hurdles stand in the way of turning what’s on the drawing board into reality.
The city, which owns some 20 properties in the area collectively worth about $2 million, would need to buy several private sites, including the bank building. The smaller parcels aren’t well-suited for development now, said city Real Estate Assessor Jerry Banagan, but would become so if the existing roads were ripped out and the pieces merged into one property.
To move forward with the development deal, the City Council would be required to vote on it.
The development team was the only group that responded to a request the city sent in September 2015 looking for ideas on what to do with the land, Harris said.
Robinson Development Group, a real estate company founded more than 30 years ago by Jim Robinson, is based in Norfolk. Ralph Parham II owns Parham & Associates, a general contracting company in Virginia Beach. Both declined to comment.
The companies have spent more than a year trying to negotiate land purchases, according to a closed-session PowerPoint presentation shared with council members last January and recently provided by the city to The Virginian-Pilot. The northeast area includes more than 12 acres of private property.
“They are having a hard time trying to assemble the land,” said Lloyd Jackson, a senior business development manager in the city’s Economic Development Department. Jackson said the city wants to check back in with the developers by July, but there’s no real deadline for them to secure the private properties.
The city also owns the northwest quadrant, which includes a field and a paved area, so the project could extend across Witchduck Road, Jackson said.
That land, about 2 acres, is worth $1 million, Banagan said.
S.L. Nusbaum had pitched a project to build a Walgreens and other retail on the site, but the deal fell apart last year.
The city has worked closely with the Historic Kempsville Citizens Action Committee and Amelia Ross-Hammond, a former city councilwoman, to plan a redevelopment vision for the intersection.
The community would like to see the area return to colonial-era architecture similar to the 18th century village appearance of Merchants Square in Colonial Williamsburg.
Part of the thinking for that look stems from the area’s history: It was the site of a Revolutionary War battle and is home to two historic buildings – the 18th century, wood-framed Carraway House on South Witchduck Road and Pleasant Hall, a two-story brick home on Princess Anne Road built in 1769.
Some of the property potentially needed to complete the city’s vision on the northeast corner includes office buildings, a duplex, house and townhouse, according to a city advertisement in 2015 seeking development ideas for the area. The city and developer would not say which private properties are still being considered for development.
Albert Bonney Jr., 75, who owns a duplex in that area, said he isn’t interested in selling, but does want to see the city redevelop the corner.
His family owns several properties in Kempsville, including an Ace Hardware. Bonney Road was named after his father.
“I will be glad to see it developed,” he said. “Get some life back in Kempsville.”
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