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State: Norfolk Vote Threatens Future of Navy Airfield

Norfolk Naval Shipyard

When City Council members voted to approve a new banquet hall that lies under a Navy flight path, they thought they were helping a small-business owner who'd gotten the runaround.

But in the process, a top state official warned recently, they might have threatened the future of a key military installation.

On Tuesday, council members seemed stunned by a March 10 letter from John C. Harvey Jr., Virginia's secretary of veterans and defense affairs. In it, he wrote that the headline on a Virginian-Pilot article last month about the new banquet hall should have read, "Norfolk City Council places bull's-eye on Chambers Field."

In late February, a majority of the council voted to approve the business, Elegant Occasions by Krista, over the objections of the Norfolk Naval Station commander.

The Navy's concern is that the Ocean View business lies in a designated crash-risk zone where Norfolk has promised to limit development.

Harvey's letter to Mayor Paul Fraim warned that the Navy might consider closing Chambers Field, which is part of the naval station.

"I didn't write this letter lightly," Harvey said Wednesday.

The Navy's letter lacked such warnings, but it said military leaders are "troubled" that Norfolk approved the business despite earlier promises. The letter also asked the council to reconsider its vote in light of the risk to public safety.

Fraim said Tuesday that the city attorney has ruled that the council cannot legally undo the approval. So at the meeting, council members agreed to see whether owners Krista and Kenny Hines will agree to move to a new location, with city assistance.

"We have no ability to do anything other than to ask or to try," Fraim said.

Krista Hines didn't respond to a call and email seeking comment Wednesday. City Manager Marcus Jones said in a statement that his staff spoke to Hines and she is "open to a dialogue with us that results in a win-win for both her and the city."

It's not clear what -- if anything -- the Navy will do if Hines keeps her business where it is. A spokeswoman for Rear Adm. Jack Scorby, who oversees the region's bases, declined to comment on Harvey's letter.

So why all this fuss over a 3,400-square-foot banquet hall, meant to host birthday and graduation parties for at most 80 people?

Harvey said he understands residents might be puzzled that the small business has become such a big deal.

But he worries the vote will signal Norfolk doesn't fully support the Navy -- and the military will take that into account the next time it chooses where to cut operations because of budget pressure.

"The last thing that needs to happen now is for any city or county in the commonwealth of Virginia to signal publicly, 'OK, we're just not going to play by the rules here that we agreed to,' " said Harvey, a retired four-star admiral who's a member of Gov. Terry McAuliffe's Cabinet.

A 6-2 majority of the City Council voted Feb. 23 to approve Elegant Occasions, with some members saying Krista and Kenny Hines had been treated unfairly.

At the time, the council was bothered that no one from the city had told the Hineses anything about the crash-zone issue for months after they applied to open their business. As a result, they had started buying furniture, curtains and equipment.

Elegant Occasions' building near the north end of Granby Street is more than a mile and a half from the east end of the runway at Chambers Field, formerly known as Norfolk Naval Air Station. But it's under a takeoff path, which puts it in an "accident potential zone" under a 2005 land-use study.

Fraim and Councilman Barclay Winn voted against the approval, saying it would set a bad precedent.

Before the vote, the council heard objections from the captain who commands Norfolk Naval Station. Afterward, an admiral's staff got involved.

The other March 10 letter came from Scorby's office at the headquarters of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, which is based in Norfolk and oversees installations from Maine to North Carolina.

Fred Crecelius, Scorby's deputy commander, wrote that there is a 3 percent chance the next plane that crashes on certain takeoff or landing patterns will strike near Elegant Occasions.

Councilman Andy Protogyrou said he was taken aback by the Navy's response because the military had not said an approval would strain its ties with the city.

Councilman Paul Riddick publicly asked the naval station commander, Capt. Doug Beaver, before the vote how a yes vote would affect the Navy's view of the city. Beaver replied that he viewed the council with "the utmost respect."

About a decade ago, Hampton Roads faced a more serious threat when a federal commission voted to consider closing Oceana Naval Air Station because nearby residential and commercial development interfered with operations. In 2005, The Pilot reported that one-third of Virginia Beach's 425,000 residents lived in areas considered inappropriate for homes or schools because of military jet noise.

Virginia Beach and Chesapeake promised to control development, and the Pentagon kept Oceana open.

The near-crisis led to a new way of thinking for the region. As part of a 2013 long-range plan, Norfolk also agreed not to approve any "increase in intensity of incompatible uses" in crash-risk zones.

That means existing homes and businesses can stay, but a new development can proceed only if it's similar to what was on the site before.

The building where Elegant Occasions is renting space formerly housed a restaurant and a bike shop. But the city considers a banquet hall a more "intense" use because it can host larger gatherings.

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