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Hampton Roads to get Reality Check

Updated: March 30, 2012 - 10:10 pm

Posted: March 30, 2012

By Philip Newswanger

philip.newswanger@insidebiz.com

The region's future may be decided May 17 at Old Dominion University's Ted Constant Center.

That's when regional leaders and members of the public will suggest how they want the region to look in 25 years.

Reality Check is a one-day event, sponsored by the Urban Land Institute and its local chapter.

The event, costing $150,000, is being funded by a $22,500 grant from the Urban Land Institute and from sponsorships.

John Peterson III, chairman of the Urban Land Institute's Hampton Roads chapter, said the event will produce a set of guiding land use principles, such as for the preservation of land and for better transportation, for both the Peninsula and Southside.

"The most difficult to achieve but the most challenging to achieve is to agree that there is a common problem that needs to be addressed," said Peterson, who is senior vice president of the Terry-Peterson Group.

"Every locality evaluates every land use decision within a vacuum. They are not thinking of the region."

Many localities in Hampton Roads face the same problems, such as transportation, scarcity of available land, sinking land and rising sea levels.

"The Urban Land Institute believes that land use is the cause and the solution to all our problems," he said. "The plan for the next 25 years might solve some of our problems."

The event will run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a break for lunch.

Edward McMahon, senior resident fellow for the Urban Land Institute, will deliver the opening remarks.

"I usually do an inspirational speech on why regionalism is important," said McMahon, who has participated in eight Reality Checks.

A luncheon speaker is scheduled, but has yet to be chosen.

The audience will be presented with projections on population and jobs for the next 25 years.

Then attendees will be divided among 30 tables, with 10 individuals at each. Each table will have a map of Hampton Roads and a box of colored Legos, representing jobs and population, and participants will be asked where all the jobs and population should go.

"Before they start moving the Legos on the table, they have to agree to a set of principles," McMahon said.

Each table develops from five to 10 principles, such as should the region develop its downtowns or should the region attract more military or any number of other issues.

The group decides which principles they will follow and then they are discussed by the entire audience.

McMahon said Realty Check is an exercise in agreeing to a set of principles to guide future land use.

"The problems most of these regions face are regional," he said. "So the solutions have to come from the region.

"What happens afterwards is more important than what happens during the day."

What came from the Washington, D.C., Reality Check, in which McMahon participated, was twofold: Participants wanted more mixed use near metro stations and more preservation of green space.

More importantly, participants formed the Washington Sustainable Growth Alliance, also called the Smart Growth Alliance, a coalition of home builders, the local chamber, environmentalists and developers.

When the builders faced opposition from neighbors to developing more mixed use near metro stations, they turned to the environmentalists for help and the environmentalists endorsed their plans with local government, McMahon said.

In turn, the environmentalists told the builders that if they wanted their endorsement for mixed use, the builders needed to endorse their plans for more conservation of land, McMahon said.

The two groups cooperated. The builders got their plans approved and the environmentalists got $100 million worth of land placed in conservation.

Richmond will undergo its own Reality Check in 2013.

"We want a Reality Check to go beyond a normal Urban Land Institute audience of elected officials and NIMBYs," said Laura Lee Garrett, chairman of ULI's Richmond district council and a real estate attorney with the Hirschler Fleischer law firm.

In preparation for next year, the Richmond chapter is holding three events open to the public to address land use, housing and transportation. The first session, held Feb. 17, addressed the region's housing needs. The second session will be held April 3 and will address infrastructure and transportation. The third session on June 5 will address land use.

"We have a great quality of life in Richmond and the Richmond metropolitan area," Garrett said. "We want to maintain that for ourselves and for our children." nib

Post-event coverage

To view a handouts from the speaker, click this link:
Useful Websites Resource Guide.