Comments on PHP Draft Master Plan from Peter Doherty

From an email. Posted unedited with permission. Some formatting style lost:

Comments on Draft Master Plan For PHP Property

August 17, 2012

As City resident, field ornithologist and retired environmental and land use planning lawyer with a demonstrated interest in the preservation and conservation of PHP, First Landing State Park (“FLSP”) and the Lynnhaven estuary, I would offer the following comments and suggestions concerning the PHP draft Master Plan as presented by the City at the July 2012 PHP Stakeholder meeting:

    PHP has been disturbed.
    Fundamentally, the value of PHP to the community, the Lynnhaven and the Chesapeake Bay rests upon one fact: it is among the last, remaining, large, undeveloped, open spaces along the Lynnhaven River and it is in public ownership. Indeed, but for FLSP and now PHP, the essentially urban, north end of the City would be a far less inviting area in which to live, work and visit. But PHP, while “undeveloped”, is by no means undisturbed or unaltered. The remaining maritime forest is second or third growth in which fire has been suppressed. Wetlands and transition uplands have been filled with dredge spoils; tidal flow to other wetlands is restricted by a network of berms. As a designated “Natural Resource Area Park”, there should not be in a rush to disturb, alter, fragment, build upon and otherwise develop PHP in the name of restoration, preservation, education and recreation. PHP has much value in its present state.
    PHP should reflect its history.
    There is great value in seeing and learning the environmental history of a place. Just as the restoration of an historic public site, Mount Vernon for example, does not seek to return the site and buildings to their original state, the goal for PHP should not be to have it appear as it did before the first Europeans arrived. Such would ignore that habitats lying along a small estuary at the mouth of a larger estuary and in close proximity to an ocean are not a static places; that is their beauty and a key to their diversity. It would also hide the choices which prior owners (and in the case of dredge spoils, with the approval of government) made during their “stewardship”. This is not to urge that all alterations to the PHP property be left in place and that wetland restoration not be undertaken at some point. Rather, it suggests that restoration take place at a measured and thoughtful pace only after the diversity of wildlife presently using the property is fully evaluated and after the risks and effects of climate change and sea level rise are fully considered. To my mind the large areas of sand on the site present an opportunity rather than an obstacle. With some temporary electric fencing, decoys and bird call recordings, a breeding tern colony could be attracted to PHP.
    A comprehensive written Master Plan is essential.
    Aerial photographs and drawings may certainly be part of any Master Plan. A Master Plan, however, must be in writing and clearly expressed so that interested parties may discuss, evaluate and offer their perspectives. And only then can future actions be guided and evaluated from a broad perspective. It is unfortunate that the entire PHP property has been platted and ownership assigned prior to the City undertaking to draft a Master Plan. The CBF wind turbines have no place in an area where the interests of wildlife are of primary importance; they should be replaced by solar panels. Other conflicts between the CBF facility and the Park will certainly arise and such might have been avoided had a Master Plan covered the entire property. Nevertheless the City Master Plan for the Park may be of use as the City evaluates the CBF site plan.
    Passive recreational uses must remain secondary.
    Two examples: Opportunities for people (and their dogs) to enjoy the shoreline abound in Virginia Beach. Opportunities for waterbirds, such as shorebirds, terns, rails, oystercatchers and herons to loaf, preen, forage, rest and reproduce do not. If the “primary purpose (of this City Natural Resource Area) is to preserve the indigenous vegetation and wildlife” dogs should not be allowed in PHP and public use of the shoreline should be restricted to specific times of the year. This and other use regulations (off trail restrictions?) should be discussed, considered and guided by the Master Plan. As a park which will not be staffed and will have only occasional law enforcement presence, clear and objective rules are necessary for self-policing to work.
    Look forward, not aft.
    PHP presents a unique opportunity as a natural resource public area, but the park could easily become just another urban park. Too much access to/from water, too many trails and creature comfort improvements, too many signs which double as predator perches, wholesale wetland restoration-the list goes on. Such “improvements” could be accepted by the community based upon the thought of what “could have been built here.” Such would be the wrong approach. Rather PHP could become a remarkable urban natural area if wildlife and the natural world are given their required preference in the master plan and the City moves with thoughtful deliberation and considered public input.

Thank you for your consideration.

Peter Doherty
leasttern@hotmail.com

Email response from Barbara Duke, Parks and Recreation Project Manager for PHP. Email posted unedited with permission:

Peter, thank you very much for your thoughtful comments and as you know we will be developing the Management Plan over the next year. The Management Plan will serve as the long range master plan for restoration and public access. It is so fortunate that we were able to preserve Pleasure House Point, but unfortunate that it is so unique to the Lynnhaven watershed in that there is no other undeveloped property quite as rich in environmental attributes(except First Landing state park of course). It is easy to see why Pleasure House Point is often viewed as the savior for all purposes, but, as you have so eloquently pointed out, it is not pristine and has been disturbed greatly in the past. It is what it is and we are striving to do our best with it. I am keenly aware of the need to balance human use with wildlife use and water quality benefits on this site as well as the need to let nature lead us instead of trying to rush changes. We will always need the community’s help to make tough decisions as we move forward, so again, thank you for your interest.

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2 responses to “Comments on PHP Draft Master Plan from Peter Doherty

  1. Pingback: Comments from Peter Doherty on Pleasure House Point Draft Master Plan « Shore Drive Community Coalition·

  2. In attempting to restore PHP, we could rush in to fix the problems and end up with something that misses the mark. I think a slow and thoughtful approach is needed. If we do the minimum for the time being, we will do less damage. I think our objective should be to make PHP as naturally sustaining as possible. Less of man and more of nature. It will have to start with more conversations with involved people.

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