Virginia Beach May Approve New Park Funds

Virginia Beach, VA–At their meeting this afternoon, the Virginia Beach City Council is expected to give its final approval to a $53.4 million parks and open space funding package that will allow the City to begin acquiring properties identified in its recently completed Virginia Beach Outdoors Plan 2000 Update.

“This is a bold and visionary step, and we applaud the Mayor and City Council their plans to make Virginia Beach a state and national leader in funding parks and land conservation,” said Debi Osborne, director of the Trust for Public Land’s Chesapeake Field Office. “Years from now, the people of Virginia Beach will thank today’s leaders for having had the foresight to invest in the city’s long-term quality of life.”

Today’s vote comes at the end of an intensive 15-month research and planning effort by the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation and Department of Planning. The result of this work-the Virginia Beach Outdoors Plan-proposes an ambitious land acquisition and parks development program to expand and improve the city’s system of parks and athletic facilities, preservation of undeveloped land and open space, waterway and beach access, and trails.

“The City’s parks and recreation and planning departments did an absolutely fantastic job,” said Chris Wells, conservation finance manager at the Trust for Public Land. “The Virginia Beach Outdoors Plan is a model of what a good parks plan should be: it is rigorously-researched, yet readily understandable by the general public; it is visionary but realistic.”

The Trust for Public Land, a national land conservation organization assisted the City with a key component of the plan: public opinion polling and focus groups that asked citizens to rate the importance of open space protection versus other major issues, how the City’s open space dollars should be spent, and how much they would be willing to spend on parks and open space. The results of both the poll and focus groups showed strong public support for City investment in parks and open space protection.

“We hope that public leaders throughout the Commonwealth will look to the example set by Virginia Beach,” said Wells. “They are showing the way out of the old ‘growth versus the environment’ arguments by making environmental protection and a high quality of life, key components of the city’s overall approach to growth and economic development.”

The new commitment by Virginia Beach comes at a time of growing public interest in open space funding across Virginia. Voters statewide voiced their support for conservation as a top priority for state funding in a poll released last week by the Trust for Public Land, the Nature Conservancy and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Eighty percent of voters polled said that they favor dedicating $40 million in state funds to protect open space, forests, farms and clean water.

Additional funding will also provide resources to meet the goal set forth in the Chesapeake 2000 Agreement, in which Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania commit to protecting 20% of the land in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed by 2010. In “Keeping our Commitment: Land Conservation in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed,” a report recently released by the Trust for Public Land and the Chesapeake Bay Commission, it is estimated that protecting the 1.1 million acres needed to meet this goal will require an additional $1.8 billion.

“This measure by Virginia Beach is exactly what local governments throughout the Commonwealth and the Chesapeake Bay region need to meet their own open space needs and leverage and encourage additional state and federal funding to meet the Bay region goal of conserving 20% of the watershed land by 2010,” said Osborne.

The Trust for Public Land conserves land for people to improve the quality of life in our communities and to protect our natural and historic resources for future generations. Founded in 1972, and based in San Francisco, TPL specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiation, conservation finance, and law to protect land for public use and enjoyment. To date, TPL has protected more than 1.2 million acres of land nationwide, including more than 10,000 acres in Virginia.