- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2005

VIRGINIA BEACH — Officials announced plans yesterday to spend $182 million to block development around Oceana Naval Air Station in an effort to persuade the federal base closing commission to keep it open.

After a closed session, the Virginia Beach City Council announced a joint plan with the state to seek the $15 million purchase of a 6-acre site where a 72-unit condominium project was planned.

Vice Mayor Louis Jones said the state will supply the $250,000 option money, and the state and city would split the purchase price, should the deal go through. The option only will apply if the Base Realignment and Closure Commission decides to keep Oceana open.

“This development has become a lightening rod for the BRAC Commission as they determine whether to put NAS Oceana on the base closure list,” Mr. Jones said.

In an interview Monday with the Virginian-Pilot, BRAC Commission Chairman Anthony J. Principi acknowledged that some progress had been made in addressing development near the base, but said “complicated issues” remain regarding land already zoned for development.

“I hope there’s a way that some of these issues can be resolved without the need to move out of Oceana,” Mr. Principi told the Virginian-Pilot.

Mr. Principi was not immediately available for comment yesterday.

Mr. Jones said the city also has signed a contract to buy 23 acres of land just outside the base’s main gate for $1.1 million. In addition, the city plans to spend up to $161 million over 20 years to buy land for development rights from “willing sellers” between Oceana and a practice landing field in Chesapeake.

The city also has requested $5 million from the federal government to purchase rights on property development.

William Leighty, Gov. Mark Warner’s chief of staff, said the actions yesterday demonstrated that Virginia Beach officials were seeking a “true partnership” with the Navy.

When it was noted that the Navy had opposed the 72-unit condominium project two years ago, Mr. Jones said the zoning on the site permitted even greater development with a hotel or a larger condo project.

Asked whether the council’s actions would preserve the Navy’s presence at Oceana in the future, Mr. Jones said he didn’t know.

“We do know what they are telling us now and what the BRAC Commission is telling us now,” he said.

Oceana is Virginia Beach’s largest employer, with a military and civilian staff of nearly 17,000. It is home to about 140 F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets and about 50 F-14 Tomcats.

The base, which trains aircraft carrier pilots, was a late addition to the military bases BRAC is considering for closure. It was not on the Defense Department’s list of recommendations, but was added after commission researchers said neighborhood development was encroaching on pilots’ ability to practice taking off and landing at all hours.

Adm. Mike Mullen, the chief of naval operations, told the BRAC panel earlier this month that the Navy had considered other options and found Oceana to be the best location for its East Coast fighter plane hub.

Even so, the BRAC Commission has scheduled a hearing Saturday to consider reopening Cecil Field in Florida to replace Oceana. The base near Jacksonville was closed in 1999.

North Carolina and Texas also have submitted proposals to replace the Virginia Beach base.

The commission begins voting Aug. 24 on its recommendations to President Bush.

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