Battle over site of historic school in Hampton

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — There is a fight over what is best for the block of land that held a former historical school.

700 Shell Rd. used to hold the Virginia School for the Deaf, Blind and Multi-Disabled.

Reverend John Kenney of the Third Baptist Church said the land is special to the Black community.

“It meant something that promoted life,” he said.

He said the school was a place for locals who were blind, deaf or socially challenged. Kenney said he wants something constructed that promotes life, longevity and health just like the school did.

“The community really wanted to see some type of maybe mixed housing develop,” he said.

The new development plan is to create an industrial park with a workforce center and land for industrial spaces. The owner of Phenix Industrial LLC, Greg Garett, said this is the best way to use the land.

“It’s been sitting there vacant for 12 years. It can sit vacant for another 12 years. It is a tremendous opportunity,” Garrett said.

He said the new plan will create high-paying jobs and tax revenue that will help the Hampton area.

“It’s about job creation and making Hampton better,” he said.

Garrett said the plan will highlight the historical school with a 10-acre all-abilities playground.

For Valerie Bell, she said she would like to see something new that brings hope like the school gave many black children with disabilities.

“Why not have it for the community. Why not? Why not help because we need it,” Bell said.

She said she wants something like a new church, healthcare center or gym.

“I don’t want to see no buildings there,” she said.

Major Donnie Tuck voiced his take on the matter in a statement to Ten On Your Side below:

The City of Hampton Economic Development Authority owns about two-thirds of the site, and the other 23-acre section is in private hands.

I would like to begin by stating that the City Council has not taken a vote on this issue, so it would be premature to say what the City’s position is about any specific idea or proposal. The City Council amended the community plan in 2017 to reflect that the school no longer existed and to set land-use designations for the future use of the property. About 62 acres were listed for business/industrial use. About 14 acres, closest to the residential area, were recommended for low-density residential uses.

At the time, City staff noted that the land had good access to the interstate and port. They also noted that a light industrial use would provide much-needed jobs. One of the City’s goals is to increase the business share of the property tax base (currently 19%) to reduce the tax burden on homeowners.

Staff also noted the importance of maintaining the character of the adjacent neighborhood and creating the opportunity for new park space and residential development, which is the reason the 14 acres was set aside.

The Council report notes that the land was first marketed for residential use by the Hampton Redevelopment and Housing Authority, to no avail. About 3-4 years ago, the Commonwealth of Virginia considered the location as a potential site for a new Veterans Care Center but eventually decided to locate the facility in Virginia Beach.

I would like to note that no one spoke at the City Council public hearing Jan. 11, 2017, or at the public hearing on Dec. 1, 2016, at which the Planning Commission endorsed the new land-use plan.

Hampton Major Donnie Tuck

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