SHORE THING: Bay Creek Can Blame Cape Charles
By GEORGE SOUTHERN
Cape Charles Wave
November 26, 2012
Bay Creek once saved the Town of Cape Charles from financial ruin. Now the reinvigorated Town of Cape Charles is sucking the lifeblood out of Bay Creek. Is this town big enough for both of us (“both” being the Historic District, and Bay Creek)?
A little background: Twenty years ago, when the Town of Cape Charles was infamous for its crack houses, and the only growth industry was Section 8 subsidized housing, a savior appeared on the horizon – Brown & Root, Inc. Circa 1974, Brown & Root had purchased 980 acres known as Hollywood Farm — where racehorses once were trained — for use as a fabrication plant for offshore oil platforms. But then the 1973 oil embargo was supplanted by an oil glut, and nothing ever happened at Hollywood Farm.
Fast-forward 20 years to 1993: By then, Brown & Root had given up any thought of industrial use for Hollywood Farm. Instead, the property would become a planned unit development known as Accawmacke Plantation. Well-heeled residents of Accawmacke Plantation would demand two services that Northampton County could not provide: water/sewer and a local police force. But the struggling Town of Cape Charles could provide those services – if Accawmacke Plantation were incorporated into the Town.
Northampton County was loathe to lose control of the property to Cape Charles, and fought the annexation in the courts. But Brown & Root supplied the Town’s legal counsel, and the County never had a chance.
CONTINUED FROM FIRST PAGE
The annexation of 2,200 acres enlarged the Town multiple times over, but hardly increased population at all. And there matters sat for almost another 10 years as Brown & Root failed to act on its plans. That’s when fabled developer Dickie Foster stepped in, bought out Brown & Root, and made Accawmacke Plantation a reality. Except that he called it Bay Creek.
Foster followed the heretofore-successful blueprint for attracting the wealthy to build their vacation homes at Bay Creek:
— Proximity to either water or mountains: Check.
— Signature golf course: Double-check (Palmer and Nicklaus).
— Gated, 24-hour access: Check.
— Clubhouse with dining facilities: The restaurants came (Aqua and Coach House), but the promise of a clubhouse remains unfulfilled.
— High-end shopping opportunities: Check.
And Foster went further, with a first-class marina with luxury accommodations and dining for overnight boaters.
Other than the unbuilt clubhouse, there’s really only one other amenity missing at Bay Creek – a premium gym with indoor and outdoor pools. And that is under construction now.
But despite the brave effort to build a gym, as anyone knows who reads the papers, things have gone very badly wrong at Bay Creek. The Virginian-Pilot’s latest story of Bay Creek woes appeared last month and may be read at http://hamptonroads.com/2012/10/e-shore-development-mired-controversy.
The Virginian-Pilot notes that Foster began divesting Bay Creek in 2008, when he sold 50 percent of the development to Sinclair Broadcast Group, which has diversified into equity holdings. Sinclair subsidiary Keyser Capital paid $35 million for the first 50 percent of the golf course side of Bay Creek, and then a year later obtained an additional 25 percent for only $5 million more. That says a lot right there. The Marina Village development remains with Foster.
What no one has yet dared to say seems self-evident to this new observer: The housing bubble affected everybody, but Bay Creek is also a victim of Cape Charles’ renaissance. Consider:
Ten years ago, the moneyed crowd built their homes in Bay Creek, while Historic District properties were left to rot. Today, historic home restorations are going on everywhere – particularly on Tazewell and Randolph avenues. Old Cape Charles has another leg up on Bay Creek – the ability to provide historic rehabilitation tax credits. Buy an old house for a song, gut it, and qualify for up to a 45 percent tax credit against the total rehab cost.
Meanwhile, only one house is under construction in Bay Creek this year, and only one was built last year. The 2011 house, next to Old Plantation Creek lighthouse, was built on spec and offered for $1.6 million. A year later it remains unsold. The house at 122 Creekside Lane tells a dramatic story (pictured at top of story): Listed for $1,495,000 last November, the asking price has fallen to $995,000.
Or how about this one at 15 E. Bay in Marina Village: a bank foreclosure now offered at $325,000. When building lots at Marina Village first went on the market, they sold out in a matter of hours, at prices approaching what you can now get a developed property for.
The dichotomy between old Cape Charles and new Bay Creek is best illustrated by their dueling marinas: Bay Creek bought the sagging harbor facility on King’s Creek and developed it into a first-class marina with luxury accommodations, fine dining plus a coffee shop, fancy stores, a small swimming pool, and even a bait & tackle shop with the affected name of Complete Angler. What yachtsman sailing from New York to Florida could resist calling at such a port?
That was then. The first chink in the armor appeared after the Romeos opened Cape Charles Coffee House downtown. Suddenly the clientele at the Bay Creek coffee shop switched loyalties to a more convenient, more inviting locale, and the Bay Creek coffee shop shut down.
More recently, the Town expanded what had been its commercial harbor to become a tourist destination, with new floating docks, a new seafood restaurant, and a first-class bathhouse. The Tall Ships and Clam Slam festivals helped popularize the harbor, and suddenly yachts from as far away as Australia were calling. Bay Creek Marina, for all its glitz, began to resemble the marine equivalent of a ghost town. Not much later, the upscale marina shops shut down.
Everyone prays now that Aqua Restaurant will not follow suit. It remains the Town’s premium waterfront dining facility, and its popularity for destination weddings continues to grow. But now there’s another waterfront dining option – the Shanty – and while the two restaurants are very different, their clientele may not be.
The irony is that Bay Creek taxpayers are subsidizing Town facilities competing against their full-rate private operations. The Town owns the harbor, Town employees staff the marina, and the Shanty received a low-cost lease to build on Town-owned land.
Bay Creek property owners increasingly are worried about their properties’ future, and one member of the homeowners association has launched a public website for “Bay Creek Concerned Homeowners”: https://groups.google.com/forum/?hl=en&fromgroups#!forum/bay-creek-concerned-homeowners
The reality is that, in a gated community, you just keep on paying. There’s the landscaping expense, of course, but also upkeep for streets and sidewalks. Meanwhile, in the Historic District, VDOT is engaged in a $1 million sidewalk renewal, all at state expense. And earlier this year most of the roads in the Historic District received a slurry treatment, again courtesy of the state.
A 2010 Bay Creek reserve study details that $700,000 needs to be put aside annually to cover eventual replacement of facilities. Homeowners worry that not enough money is being saved up for the day when Bay Creek is no longer new. All the while, Bay Creek residents pay town taxes at full rate, while receiving only a portion of town services.
And just when nobody needed any more bad news, Sandy came to town, wreaking havoc with Bay Creek’s golf courses, especially where the Nicklaus course hugs the bay. (According to the Bay Creek website, both courses are now back in play.) Sandy hit the Town’s fishing pier as well, but the Town hopes to get federal FEMA funds to repair it. That won’t work for a private golf course.
Adding insult to injury, some would say, was the Town’s decision to build the new sewer treatment plant on the road to Bay Creek, where property owners expect sewerage facilities to be neither seen nor smelled.
The Town of Cape Charles makes only one financial concession to Bay Creekers: they are exempt from the $31 annual golf cart fee. But when the golf cart path linking Bay Creek to the Town is complete, the Town plans to eliminate that perk.
SHORE THING is an occasional feature of the Cape Charles Wave.