Editorial: Well-Grounded Approach
City of Hampton is on the right track in mapping its Langley retention strategy
December 17, 2011
For almost a century, Langley Air Force Base has been a part of the Peninsula landscape, contributing billions of dollars to the area economy and providing employment for generations of military families.
But despite the long history of military installations in Hampton Roads and Langley’s seemingly ideal location by the sea, assuming that it will be here in perpetuity is shortsighted.
Just ask the city of Virginia Beach.
Just a few years ago, our southside neighbor was shocked to learn its Naval Air Station Oceana was on the Department of Defense’s Base Realignment and Closure list because the site did not have the flexibility needed for ongoing operations. Development around the base had become too close for military comfort. Determined to keep Oceana open, the city undertook long-term systematic efforts to address encroachments around the base and make it more attractive to the Navy.
In order to meet military requirements, Virginia Beach sought and obtained $7.5 million in annual state matching funds and agreed to spend up to $15 million annually to acquire land in the “clear zone” immediately adjacent to the base and rezone or acquire land in the “accident potential” zone just beyond the clear zone. Virginia Beach was so successful in its land acquisition process– just last month, it purchased 800 acres of private farmland and woods – that Oceana no longer faces imminent closure.
While the land around Langley doesn’t include as many development encroachments as Virginia Beach had to address, it too faces the likelihood of another salvo of closures by an infrastructure-heavy Air Force. With so much at stake, Hampton and its neighbors must be as proactive as possible in preserving the base.
In 2008, nearly 26,000 depended on Langley for support while the base contributed to another 6,577 indirect jobs to the region. Its annual economic impact is nearly $1.3 billion, with just over half of that representing payroll of military and civilian personnel. About one third is spent on local services, materials, equipment and supplies.
Fortunately, Hampton is moving in the right direction. In 2010, the city and neighboring localities finalized a Joint Land Use Study that included recommendations for acquiring and managing the land surrounding the 2,833-acre base.
In the latest step, the city has announced it will seek $6 million from the state in 2012 to start the acquisition process. The city will contribute another $6 million. Because Langley is important not only to the economic health of our region but that of our state, as well, the funding partnership only makes sense.
Over the next few years, the plan is for Hampton to purchase 19 parcels of private property in the clear zone identified as incompatible. Because local governments in Virginia lack powers of eminent domain, land in the clear zone – property that must be free of all future development – will have to be acquired from willing sellers. With today’s depressed real estate market, the city might just find an unexpected percentage of not only willing but eager sellers.
Hampton will also begin taking steps to rezone some of the affected property in the accident potential zone to reduce density and meet other compatibility requirements.