Virginia Beach’s Planning Anti-Pattern

In an article about Virginia Beach municipal planning staff meeting with Charlottesville planning staff, C-Ville Weekly’s Laura Ingles writes:

Strategic Growth Area Manager Barry Frankenfield showed the group before-and-after slides of a Virginia Beach street corner. The first shot, with a remarkable similarity to the Random Row buildings at the corner of West Main Street and McIntire Road, consisted of old, rundown one-story buildings, unused sidewalks along uneven parking lots, and no trees. The second photo revealed a multi-story, mixed-use building covering several blocks, with storefronts and colorful overhangs, expansive sidewalks, and street trees every few yards.

“We went from a place where you can have a $1.99 waffle and a cup of coffee to now, you can get a piece of meat for $48,” Frankenfield said. “I think that’s progress.”

So, basically, let’s just do the opposite of whatever Virginia Beach is doing. Instructive.

14 Responses to “Virginia Beach’s Planning Anti-Pattern”


  • This is a pandemic. It will not go away until someone calls them on it every single time.

    Much like my experience w/FOIA.

  • When we moved to VA in the 80s, Va Beach was a horrible, sketchy, place that made us nervous enough to not come back for a decade. Today, there are many decent places to stay and 2-3 decent places to eat.

    Really, back then…the place was awful. Anyone who thinks that Va Beach 20 years ago was the prize…needs to get a memory check.

    Anyone who thinks VaBeach then is better than VaBeach now… was NOT actually spending a weekend in VaBeach then…..

  • That’s almost as frightening as the city’s cozy relationship with MMM Design, whose roots go back to the era in which Norfolk destroyed nearly everything of interest in the city.

    For those of you who have forgotten, that’s the company that threw out the old Downtown Mall bricks for about $7 million + in extra costs for a project that would not even have been necessary if the place had received a little routine maintenance over the years. And wouldn’t you know it, that job qualified them to be hired to recommend that the Belmont Bridge be replaced with them getting the contract for a new design. Strangely, that project wouldn’t have been necessary if the bridge had received a little routine maintenance over the years.

  • “We went from a place where you can have a $1.99 waffle and a cup of coffee to now, you can get a piece of meat for $48,” Frankenfield said. “I think that’s progress.”

    I wonder what kind of measurement Mr. Frankenfield is using? Tax revenues?

    When I arrived in Charlottesville (’95) you could buy a pair of reasonably-priced socks Downtown. I don’t think you can do that any more. I think that’s “regress”.

  • Tell me again, grandfather, the tale of the affordable socks.

  • Ummmm…I will take the downtown mall today over 20 the downtowm mall of 20 years ago.

  • @belmont, yo.:
    The story of the socks is about the folks who live Downtown, hipsters and yuppies and families, folks who live in North Downtown and in Friendship Court, and how they now have to drive or take the bus up 29 or out to Pantops to shop in strip malls for things we all need in daily life, and all that means in wasted time and gas and money.

    @danpri:
    That’s not the choice on offer. No one is offering the Downtown Mall of twenty years ago. The question at hand is what we want the Downtown Mall to look like twenty years from now.

  • Yeah, but not enough people needed that stuff to keep Woolworths or A & N or Footlocker alive.

  • I’m confused, that sounds pretty good other than the bit about food prices. Is it possible that Frankenfield is just cherry-picking the most expensive restaurant to show off possible revenues?

    I don’t like conversion of public spaces into private, but multi-story buildings, walkable sidewalks, and more trees sound good to me…

  • @danpri:

    Indeed, those businesses weren’t getting the income they needed to stay open– at the rents they were being charged. In other words, it may be difficult to support both the $1.99 waffle and the $48 piece of meat in the same structure of zoning, taxation, etc. (Does anyone else wonder what cut of meat that was?) I’m not suggesting that we should subsidize failing businesses. I am suggesting that sometimes choosing policies that support the $48 restaurant may also be choosing to drive the $1.99 restaurant out of business, when it otherwise could have thrived.

    For example, the BID that has been mooted for Downtown could exercise pressure that favors some businesses and hurts others, depending on how it’s funded and governed. That’s fine by me, as long as we have a public discussion about what the consequences will be in terms of the kinds of businesses that we hurt as well as those we encourage.

  • @Tim McCormack:

    That’s a good question (about Mr. Frankenfield’s numbers). I think a couple of good general questions are: what were the goals of Virginia Beach’s policies for the area described? How were they decided? What are our goals for Downtown? Are they the same?

  • @A. Soroka:

    “the BID that has been mooted…”? Huh?

  • If I could step back for a second. The main point of the meeting was to acquaint Charlottesville planners with the strategic planning strategy that Virginia Beach took. Faced with a large area, limited funds for infrastructure, and two major economic growth engines (tourism and the military), some leaders in Virginia Beach opted to focus on a handful of strategic areas in an independent city that is just under 500 square miles.

    In comparison, Albemarle County is 726 square miles.

    Frankenfeld’s quote came during a conversation about the Resort area, which includes several single or two-story buildings. The city’s goal now is to encourage redevelopment of multi-story buildings.

    Virginia Beach coordinated their planning efforts by creating a strategic growth office, which pulled together people from all across city government to work on small area plans to guide growth.

    It’s worth taking a look at if you’re interested in planning here, because this is the direction that planning is going in here.

    If you don’t want to take the click, here’s the blurb from that website: (emphasis mine)

    “Virginia Beach’s Strategic Growth Areas (SGAs) were first identified in the 2003 Comprehensive Plan and later refined in the 2009 Comprehensive Plan as areas designated to absorb future growth in our City. Rather than relying on the dwindling inventory of remaining undeveloped land, the SGAs will accommodate growth at higher densities, thereby averting continued suburban sprawl. Each SGA has a long-range master plan which describes the future vision and guides policy decisions for growth and development in each area.”

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