The vision for Poquoson's scenic Messick Point has not come into focus, but one proposed feature's future is in jeopardy — a beach that was planned to be built on the small peninsula's southwestern shore.
The City Council decided last month to look at other options for the $125,000 in the capital improvement plan allocated for building the beach.
Most of the council members said at the time that they would like to see the money freed up for other uses at Messick Point or divided for multiple uses in the city. The council agreed to revisit the discussion in the summer to allow city staff time to gather information on potential uses of the money.
City Manager Randy Wheeler said the council's decision to look at options other than the beach was based on feedback members got from people in the city. Less than a year ago, a beach seemed imminent — Wheeler said the beach was planned to be completed by the end of this summer.
At the April meeting, council members did not offer any specific ideas for the area. Wheeler said that any enhancements would complement what is already there. He said the city had no desire to turn the area into a regional tourism destination and any action would primarily benefit people in Poquoson. Wheeler also said city residents will be involved in shaping plans for the area.
The Planning Commission started the process of updating the comprehensive plan Monday and is reviewing a survey that will ask people to share ideas for the city's future. One question asks where people would like to see new small shops or restaurants and lists Messick Point and other waterfront areas as specific possibilities. The Community Participation Team that developed the survey said it would like to mail out the survey before mid-June when schools let out for summer.
Visitors to Messick Point can take in expansive views of the Back River, which surrounds the small peninsula. Bull Island BBQ, a few seafood businesses and a boat repair shop populate the area, along with the Poquoson Yacht Club and a public facility used by school and city sailing programs. There are public boat ramps, a city-owned dock and a marina as well.
"My daddy worked and I grew up around here, running around barefoot on oyster shells," said Larry Haney, an employee at Bill Forrest Seafood on Messick Road, a few hundred yards from the end of Messick Point. "It's changed a lot."
Haney recalled that a small grassy hill, near where the beach was supposed to go, was just swamp. He fished off the piers and recalled that seafood catches seemed more plentiful. While nostalgic about the way things used to be, Haney said he was supportive of the beach when he heard about it last year. He's in favor of growth at Messick Point because he was able to enjoy it growing up — he wants other people to enjoy the area too.
Eric Rowlands, another employee at Bill Forrest Seafood, said it would be good to have more to do there since it is such a nice area, adding that it would be especially good for kids in the city to have a place to hang out. Rowlands said having another attraction nearby could also bring in customers.
"It's pretty far out here. We get first-time customers who say, 'I didn't think we'd ever get here.' If they're already out here, they may want to pick up some seafood," he said. "It couldn't hurt."
At Bull Island BBQ, Julie Forestiere Wezensky said she wasn't worried about the beach not coming to fruition since she's been having strong business. As she prepared for lunch service at the restaurant, she said she was skeptical of the beach idea from the start because the environment just did not seem right for it. She also felt plenty of people came by to take in sunsets or eat dinner after an event or game at the high school.
While loading up his boat following an unlucky day of fishing, Bernie Davis, who lives in Hampton, said he'd rather not see any development happen on Messick Point. Davis has been using the ramp for years, and he likes the laid-back charm of area, where he's gotten to know the watermen. He worried about the area getting crowded and people visiting for a leisurely afternoon complaining about things like watermen's equipment lying around or the smell of seafood coming from the businesses.
After docking a boat at the marina on the southern tip of the peninsula, Cameron Mann, a waterman from York County, said he thought it would be good to have more to do on Messick Point. "Something besides swatting away the flies," he said as a few landed on the bill of his baseball hat. In his experience, however, he felt people in the city would rather not see change. "I'm young, though, so I might see things differently."
Sonny Hanson, who owns property on the southern tip of the Messick Point peninsula, shared Mann's point-of-view. "I'm one of the few people in the city who is for every bit of development," Hanson said. The city's only real income comes from sales, meals and personal property taxes, he said, and the city needs sources of revenue. "Any development — that's money," he said.
One city development at Messick Point was recently approved by the City Council — enhancements to the city's dock where people can rent out a slip to keep a boat. Last month, the council appropriated $10,000 to equip 13 of the dock's 26 slips with water and electricity. The council had already budgeted $17,000 for dock upgrades. The rest of the $78,000 project is funded by a grant from the Virginia Port Authority.
Wheeler said that if the improvements generated more interest in renting the slips, the council would revisit the plans for the dock and decide whether to improve the remaining slips at a cost of $24,765.
Reyes can be reached by phone at 757-247-4692.