Pleasure House Point – a conservation narrative

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Pleasure House Point, Viginia Beach, VA - Photo: Tim Solanic

Every morning I read press from around the nation about conservation projects. Most often, these are written from press releases and relate little beyond a brief description of the land that is or wil be protected, where the money comes from, and what the local senator, mayor, or conservation leader has to say about the project.

It isn’t often that a writer attempts to construct a real narrative around a conservation project or describe how it came to be. But Deirdre Fernandes of The Virginian-Pilot has done exactly this in writing about TPL’s work with Wells Fargo Bank and conservation and government leaders in Virginia Beach, Virginia, to protect 122 acres of wetlands, forests, and beaches once slated to become a community of 1,000 homes.

Over lunch at Chick’s Oyster Bar on a rainy Tuesday in May, conservationists and officials from Wells Fargo bank hammered out the fate of the largest piece of undeveloped waterfront property on the Lynnhaven River.

“A rainy Tuesday in May”—I love this detail, because it means that the writer probably had to ask someone what day of the week it was and what the weather was like, understanding that the information would allow readers to picture the scene. You can almost hear the source thinking, “what earthly difference does it make?” But with an opening like that, you know you are in for a “story” and not simply an “article.”

The piece goes on to describe how the developers who owned the land got into money trouble (yet the latest example of the “green lining” to the nation’s financial storm clouds) and how conservationists got to make their case to the bank.

Kent Whitehead, the Chesapeake project director for The Trust for Public Land, flew in from Washington to pitch a proposal to the bankers who had taken control of the property. The trust, working with the city and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, could buy the land quickly, Whitehead told them.

Modern conservation can be complicated, and this deal is not yet complete. But in 730 words, this newspaper piece not only describes the details of a very complex transaction, but suggests some of the drama involved in putting the opportunity together. Worth the read.

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7 Responses to “Pleasure House Point – a conservation narrative”

  1. deltavilleoysters Says:

    Glad to hear a bank is doing something so positive

  2. Tim Says:

    Whomever picked Chick’s Oyster Bar as the location of the meeting knew what they were doing too.

    The view of Pleasure House Point looking across the Lynnhaven from Chick’s undoubtedly helped create the narrative in pitching the bold idea to protect PHP.
    _ _ _

    I wonder if they chatted about Captain John Smith having a similar view in 1607, or that the Lynnhaven Oyster was known around the world back in the day – or – if the group was at Chick’s just before dawn and the timing was right to view hundreds of birds waking up to start their day.

  3. Jim Says:

    A “bargain purchase”, but still $106,000 an acre…. It’s great that TPL found a property in a city with so much money in the bank (especially these days), but which grant program are they applying for? Federal conservation fund could be used towards much more cost-effective projects…. properties that cost 1/20th to 1/10th of this per acre.

    • Bill Poole Says:

      Jim: Well, prime undeveloped coastal acreage in a densely settle community is bound to be worth more than western forest or desert land. The $3 million federal piece would come from NOAA’s Coastal and Estuarine Land Conservation Program, specifically targeted at this kind of property. As the story notes, most for the money for the $13-milllion deal would come from city coffers, land trust support, and the targeted sale of a small portion of the land. Exact details are not yet finalized.

      • Jim Says:

        It would be interesting to compare the cost-effectiveness of this project to others around the country applying to this federal program. I’d encourage you to write up a blog post about it. The ones I am familiar with are coastal properties that cost well under $10,000 an acre. Yes, generally those projects are in more remote areas, but It’s not just that this property is in a densely populated area that makes it expensive. The developer has already subdivided and went through the approval process.

      • Bill Poole Says:

        I’m not sure how anyone could compare the “cost-effectiveness” of conservation projects without getting into some very complicated and subjective areas, Jim. Certainly if land is cheaper, for whatever reason, more of it can be conserved for any given amount of money. But there is also a value side to the equation that includes the quantifiable and unquantifiable benefits of the project. In this instance, the Virginia Beach community demonstrated the value it places on the project by stepping up with a healthy portion of the funds.

  4. Grace Says:

    Probably too late to get into the conversation, but Bill Poole is absolutely right in saying that an urban tract like Pleasure House Point does not fall into the same appraisal criteria that applies to outlying land. Apples and oranges.

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