How big is a “town center”?

The draft Land Use Plan for PW County proposes over 20 places where PW County could develop “centers of commerce” or “centers of community.” 

The proposal, not yet adopted by the Planning Commission, is to designate 1-mile wide circles, roughly 500 acres, at each of the 20+ “center” spots.  The plan is to allow developers to propose creative projects, and great increases in residential/retail/office density will be authorized.

Government officials in Virginia Beach took a different approach.  Virginia Beach focused on developing one (count ’em, 1) Town Center to become the new downtown, the dynamic and walkable mixed-use district the city lacked.

And they got it.   It has been planned, financed, and built in the last 10 years.

The sprawling City of Virginia Beach is only 25% smaller than PW County, because the city incorporated all of Princess Anne county about 50 years ago.  In 2000 Virginia Beach had a population density midway between PW County and Fairfax County.  Virginia Beach had an oceanfront resort area for tourists, but it lacked a downtown for residents. 

So, according to the architects, planners established a pedestrian-friendly street grid enhanced with streetscapes, “Main Street'” style storefronts, open spaces, and public parking. The vibrant atmosphere of the Town Center has provided the local community with a delightful place to gather, dine, shop, live, and work in a unique urban environment.”  

That Town Center is 17 blocks in size.  It accomodates 4.3 million square feet of mixed-use finished space and a living and working population of over 24,000, according to the Town Center website.

Virginia Beach officials wanted a business park for 21st century jobs.  They decided development should not be scattered, but steered to one Town Center project to be built in phases. 

At that center, development was focused on 20 acres (each city block is about 1 acre).  Just one of the “centers of community/commerce” proposed for PW County is 25 times larger than the Virginia Beach success. 

At the density of Town Center, each 500-acre “center of community/commerce” proposed for PW County could accomodate 600,000 people and develop 100 million square feet. 

If we built 20 of the proposed “centers of community/commerce,” we would create 10,000 city blocks at urban density levels and make room for 12 million new people in PW County. 

We all know that by 2030, we ain’t gonna see 12 million new people and 2 billion square feet of development in PW County.  Advocates for 20+ circles are pushing for the right to build just about anything just about anywhere.    

If we end up putting 20+ circles on a map to permit that sort of growth, don’t call it land use planning.  It would be abdication of the responsibility to shape the pattern of future development of the county.

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