By Julia Robins, Staff Writer
On June 20, a group of professors from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) took the first step toward revitalizing a rural tidewater waterfront property far removed from the hustle and bustle of Richmond, Virginia.
Daily, the Middle Peninsula exports over 71% of its workers and its remaining employee’s hourly wages remain one of the lowest in the Commonwealth. However, the property at hand can help to serve as an economic driver and a new model for community redevelopment along the waterfront. The site is surrounded by coastal ecosystem, wetlands, and forest, giving it great recreational and economic potential to benefit the community.
Professors of the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis, along with the help of the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission and Virginia Sea Grant, are working to find ways to use the property that benefit both the community and it’s surrounding environment. Ultimately, they hope to create compatible and sustainable economic development for the Middle Peninsula.
“When these kinds of projects come up we always want to do them, because this is how we teach our students; and we enjoy doing it,” says John Accordino, Director of VCU Center for Urban and Regional Analysis.
The almost-100-acre property is situated along the Severn River of Gloucester County. It was originally meant to serve as the foundation for a subdivision in the 1960s. However, in 2013 it was gifted to the Middle Peninsula Chesapeake Bay Public Access Authority, a state-authorized organization that sets aside public water access sites for recreational activities important to the economy and citizens of Virginia.
The community has already given some input toward what the land could be used for. Some ideas include an Eco Conference Center that could host weddings, retreats, workshops and the like, and a Marine Aquatics Center that would offer amenities for sailing, rowing, kayaking, and other water activities.
To address these goals, four graduate classes will be held in the fall, ranging in topics from the environment to the economy, including land use, design issues, and citizen’s views and values. In the spring, one student from each class will be selected to work alongside the professors to further refine the options for the property.
“What was intriguing about this particular project is it enabled us to do something we don’t always get to do, which is to combine several classes, to have us all working on the same project at a single time,” says Accordino. “We don’t always get to do that, so that part’s fun.”
In addition, the first citizen engagement meeting will take place in September, at which time the professors hope to gain vital information and feedback from the community. Says Accordino, “When change happens and people have an investment in a place, they often have concern, and we want to understand what those concerns are. That’s very important to us.”
The project will last one year, ending on June 15, 2015.