There have been numerous ideas over the years to develop the land surrounding historic sites in northern Newport News.
A golf course. A hotel and conference center. A mall to rival Patrick Henry Mall. And nearby at Lee Hall, city officials once hoped for a Mitsubishi manufacturing plant.
Those plans never materialized, but Newport News has not abandoned its desire to see development on its 285 acres surrounding Endview Plantation.
Of all the ideas over the years, the one that’s stuck and that the city believes makes the best sense for the Endview tract is high-end housing, according to Florence Kingston, director of the city’s department of development.
The city of Newport News plans to seek out a highly experienced team of architects, contractors and other professionals to “plan, design, build and market a premier, predominantly residential community” at the city’s Endview property, which straddles Yorktown Road, Jefferson Avenue and the northern border of Newport News Park. The official posting that seeks people for the team was approved by the Economic Development Authority Sept. 7 and will go out to the public next week, Kingston said.
Building a team rather than asking for development proposals allows for more variety and creativity, Kingston said. The process also offers the city the flexibility to disregard ideas that don’t fit the city’s vision.
The city doesn’t want tract housing on the property — it wants spacious lots with different styles of houses. This type of project would attract executives and other business leaders who often seek out homes in other localities or on the water, Kingston said. She added that there would be a buffer between homes and the plantation house and that the developer would have to be mindful of how it approached the property.
In the past, citizen groups helped the city decide high-end housing was the best use for the property, both for revenue and to add new homes to the aging housing stock.
Newport News had a development agreement for the property about a decade ago, but that fell through because of the recession, Kingston said. In 2016, then-City Manager Jim Bourey revived plans to build at Endview.
Kingston said the city avoided rushing a development after the recession, choosing to wait until the market felt right to get the type of development it really wanted. City Manager Cindy Rohlf emphasized at Wednesday’s City Council work session that the city wanted the development process to be transparent and have city residents involved.
The Endview Plantation House was built in 1769 and served as a Confederate hospital during the 1862 Peninsula Campaign, according to Endview’s website. The city acquired the property in 1995, and now welcomes visitors, offers educational programming and camps, and hosts Civil War re-enactments.
A task force in 2000 charged with advising the city what to build around Endview recommended high-end homes, a golf course and a hotel conference center with specialty shops, with 24 acres to buffer the plantation from the development.
Later in the decade, Endview drew plenty of development interest — 40 national developers showed interest in the land around Endview and Lee Hall, and six local developers made pitches for their visions of the property. The city made its deal for L.M. Sandler & Sons Inc. to build a neighborhood in 2006. In 2010 the city of Newport News is cut its ties with L.M. Sandler and Sons, the developer of the Asheton mixed-use project, terminating an agreement for a high-end development that never got started.
Asheton, would have showcased more than 1,500 luxury homes, including single-family, townhouses, condos and apartments as well as small retailers.
But despite the city and Virginia Beach-based L.M. Sandler and Sons signing the development agreement in 2004, not a single house was built. City officials said the economy plus the Sandlers having financial problems caused both sides to re-evaluate the plan.
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