By Lydia Wheeler
During Game Day, an Urban Land Institute-sponsored event held last year at Old Dominion University, more than 300 stakeholders gathered for an exercise in visioning the region's future growth. But architect Burrell Saunders, ULI Hampton Roads District Council chair, said that exercise only started the conversation about working together.
On Thursday, the conversation with last year's participants continued with "Reality Check: The Inception of Your Vision," held again at Old Dominion University. But because of press time, details of the event could not be provided for this issue.
Instead, Saunders talked about the findings from the May 2012 event, released last week. At that event,
30 tables of 10 people each worked together to map where additional transportation, population, jobs and development could go using yarn and Lego pieces, and to define what areas should be protected.
Game Day participants, Saunders said, were asked to come up with three guiding principles for deciding future growth. According to the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, the Hampton Roads population was 1.697 million in 2012 and is expected to grow 6.7 percent in the next 10 years.
According to the findings, guiding land use principles listed most consistently last year were - regionalism; quality of life; business and economics; land use patterns; transportation; and the environment.
Most tables agreed that Hampton Roads communities need to work together, despite the state code that limits the extent of regional planning and collaboration.
"A strong economy depends on the development of an interconnected, efficient transportation network within the region as well as external connections by water, rail and roadways," the findings said.
From an environmental perspective, most tables also thought that access to green areas and recreational space was important.
"We saw people wanting to recondition existing areas," Saunders said last week.
Reality Check Hampton Roads incorporates 17 jurisdictions in Hampton Roads - Norfolk, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Hampton, Newport News, Williamsburg, Suffolk; the towns of Franklin, Smithfield and Poquoson; and the counties of Isle of Wight, Southampton, Surry, James City, Gloucester and York.
Though the tables put expected population growth and jobs at or near already developed areas, the growth was also allocated to Suffolk, Franklin, Smithfield and Isle of Wight County, along the I-664 corridor between Newport News and Williamsburg, and to Gloucester County.
But transportation was the number-one issue that 93 percent of the tables said needed to be addressed.
The consensus: 78.78 miles of new light rail needs to be constructed to connect Suffolk, the Oceanfront, Virginia Beach, and the Southside to the Peninsula; as well as 9.38 miles of new highway/bridges/tunnels and 47.85 miles of highway improvements, including upgrades to the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel and I-64.
The findings clearly show that most people see a need to connect the Peninsula and Southside with mass transit, Saunders said, but the goal of the program is not to map out a definitive plan.
"We're not trying to have a result that tells you how to do everything," Saunders said. "We just want to make people conscious of how their decisions affect one another."
ULI Hampton Roads has spent more than $100,000 on the Reality Check Hampton Roads event series, paid for with the help of corporate sponsors, a $23,000 grant from ULI National and donations from ODU.
The event series is also being presented in conjunction with the Hampton Roads Partnership and the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission as well as ODU's E.V. Williams Center for Real Estate and Economic Development, which have partnered with ULI.
Additional events have not yet been scheduled, but event organizers said the goal is to keep the community engaged either through events or surveys.
The Reality Check model originated in Salt Lake City with Envision Utah, which is recognized as one of the country's most successful public involvement efforts to develop a broad-based, long-term growth strategy.
"In 1997 we were facing the challenges of a major metropolitan area," said Robert Grow, president and CEO of Envision Utah, the private/public quality growth partnership. "We had 1.7 million people and were going to add a million by 2020. We asked ourselves 'How are we going to do that?'"
Their struggles - a need for more water and money for infrastructure.
"Envision Utah was a way to take a long look at our choices and our future," Grow said.
Since 1997, Salt Lake City has added six light rail lines, with a seventh expected to open in three months. Residents, Grow said, even agreed to a tax increase to fully fund the new transportation by 2015.
The city has started building affordable housing to accommodate the influx of people and started redeveloping blighted, under-used areas. A 26-acre redevelopment is under way.
"Instead of expanding, we've focused on redeveloping along the major transit system," Grow said. "Our goal is to put 1 million people within 1,000 steps of a major transit system."
Like Hampton Roads, handling the growth in Utah was not without challenges.
"It was a challenge for people to think regionally," he said, " and that we're all in this ship together." nib