James City moving forward to redevelop BASF Corp. property

abogues@vagazette.com

Before deciding what to do with the BASF site, James City County has to check with its neighbors: the U.S. military.

The county received approval from the federal government to enter a joint land use study with Fort Eustis that will help lay out a strategy for developing property adjacent to the military installation, including the BASF property near Skiffes Creek.

The county board of supervisors has said it needs the study before making any change in the comprehensive plan for BASF that might allow it to sell the land to a commercial waterfront developer.

"Fort Eustis is a very important partner with James City County and a significant economic entity in our region. They're a big employer and the military bases in general are important to our economy. I think a joint land use study can help all of us determine how to move forward together versus having competing interests," said James City County Supervisor Kevin Onizuk.

James City County Planning Director Paul Holt said the county had been nominated and approved for the study along with Newport News, and would likely formally receive funding after sending information on the scope of the plan to the Department of Defense's Office of Economic Adjustment.

The Department of Defense says the studies are usually completed within a year. The study gets input from the federal government, local municipalities, business leaders and community stakeholders during its course.

"It really sort of looks to generate recommendation as to compatibility," Holt told the Gazette.

Last year BASF Corp. asked the Board of Supervisors to change the comprehensive plan to designate 678 acres of property in Grove along the James River from general industrial to mixed use.

The company hoped the designation would make it easier to sell the land, which has sat largely vacant for more than two decades, to a waterfront developer interested in constructing a resort facility.

Efforts to sell the land over the years have been unsuccessful. The company had said it would be difficult to sell the land with its current designation which would only allow it to be used for business purposes.

There is limited public access to riverfront property in James City County and advocates have argued the building of such a resort could lead to increased economic activity in Grove.

But officials at Fort Eustis raised concerns with the request, worried that any potential development would encroach on sensitive military sites near Skiffes Creek and lead to noise complaints from visitors because of flights out of the base.

Virginia Secretary of Defense and Veterans Affairs John C. Harvey sent a tersely worded letter last June to the board of supervisors warning any change in land use designation should be delayed until after the federal study was conducted.

Harvey said encroachment by developers could threaten the region's relationship with the military and lead to negative impacts during the Base Realignment and Closure process.

"It was not so much what was going to be built, it was the potential of what could happen," Harvey told the Gazette last July. "It may have been a resort, it may have been something else, but there was potential that would put some harm into the ability to execute the military mission on Fort Eustis."

On Thursday, a BASF Corp. spokesman said the company is pleased with the development.

"BASF's goal is to sell the property, as we believe it is in the best interest of the company and the community," said Daniel Johnson, a BASF Corp. spokesman. "We support any initiative that allows us to achieve this goal."

Bogues can be reached by phone at 757-345-2346.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
50°