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Could a true merger work?

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It's been discussed numerous times up here and around town, but it's something that crosses my mind a lot. Every time Norfolk does something, VB announces plans to do something similar, and vice versa. Could a true merger between those two cities (or Norfolk and Chesapeake) really work, or is it a complicated disaster waiting to happen?

IMO, on paper, it's a great idea, and probably the most feasible one. You have people who live in VB, but work/play in Norfolk, and vice versa. But because the LRT expansion was shot down, someone who lives in Kempsville (in the case of Chesapeake, let's say Greenbrier) still has to drive to the base in Norfolk and sit in traffic. And that's not changing anytime soon. Creating one city could possibly change that. For building the economy and bringing more tourist and federal money to the region, it makes a ton of sense. It would probably become a lot easier to bring jobs here, knowing you could bring something to an area of 700K (500K with Chesapeake). I think we get more transportation dollars knowing we now have a city of 700K. I also think moving City Hall to Town Center becomes inevitable, as it probably becomes the central-most part of this larger city.

However, I think this deal potentially hurts VB/Chesapeake. Both have a lower property tax than Norfolk, excellent schools and a much lower crime rate. I'm sure they don't want to have to prop Norfolk up in those areas, and that's understandable. Also, what do you do with your councils? I highly doubt you'll see a combined 20-person council, but the areas are so spread out, I don't know if 11 members would adequately represent either. Would Mayor Alexander or Mayor Sessoms give up their positions, or still retain a title overseeing the respective "districts" of Norfolk and VB? I believe the boroughs of NYC have borough presidents; maybe something like that? Maybe allow the current council members to still represent their wards, but still elect a new 11-person council?

This is all just speculation; obviously it would need to be fleshed out over a number of years, but I'd love to see a true feasibility study outlining pros and cons and eliminating this back and forth we keep seeing, most recently with the two arenas. Could a merger work, or could parts of either city become part of Norfolk (i.e. South Norfolk now becomes part of Berkley, or the Bayside/Newtown Road area become part of Norfolk)?

Edited by BFG

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Continuing, I'm looking over Wikipedia's article on "conurbation", or basically merging cities to form a large metro, but still retaining individuality.

A good example comparable to here might be the Bay Area in California. I've never been to that part, but I think San Fran and Oakland is a reasonable comparison. They're both right next to each other, and they've had their own infrastructure issues with arenas and stadiums.

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I don't think so.  Norfolk and Virginia Beach do not have anything in common other than what you've already mentioned.  The people are entirely different. The scene is entirely different.  Norfolk aspires to be like other port cities, Portland, Seattle, Baltimore, etc Virginia Beach does not have anything in common with that aesthetic. 

Virginia Beach and Chesapeake can attain Norfolk's population density, and I actually believe that they will surpass it over time, but the look and feel is something entirely different.  Totally different energy out there than what you have in Norfolk.

As far as South Norfolk, it was its own city before Chesapeake was created out of a merger with that city and the county.  They could have allowed Norfolk to annex.  They didn't then, and I doubt that they would in the future, even though it is a better look for them than Chesapeake.  I have always felt that Chesapeake patronizes South Norfolk, but they don't really care about it.  That will always be the urban core of Chesapeake, even though the city will never recognize it as one. 

I do agree with you about the San Francisco and Oakland comparison.  That is Norfolk and Virginia Beach all day every day.  Just leave well enough alone, and allow both cities to mature.

The real reason why people want the cities to merge is economic.  If the seven cities could stand on their own, no one would care about a merger.  But since each of the cities are, at best, a piece of the puzzle, there is closure with merging the cities together.  Part of my issue with a merger is that you create an unhealthy dependence on the unit in order for the boroughs to thrive.  Take New York City for example. The only other "city" you have out of all of those boroughs is Brooklyn.  Brooklyn was its own city before the merger.  Those other boroughs were rural counties that became urban over time, because of increasing rents in Manhattan. 

People quickly forget that we have a similar situation here in Hampton Roads.  Norfolk became undesirable, for a number of reasons; population density in Norfolk was a lot greater fifty years ago, the area represented the best and the worst of an urban experience in Virginia.  So people left areas like Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, and went into neighboring counties, filled out those areas, and new cities were formed. And that is the way that it will continue to be around here.

People just want Hampton Roads to become one city so they'll get their professional sports, or maybe Taylor Swift will come here for a change.  I don't really think it is for a genuine concern for the area.  The area is entirely too large, actually larger than New York, and it wouldn't create what people think it would.  You'd end up with an experience more like Chicago or Los Angeles. Look at how those areas annexed over the years, and consolidated into a single city.  Los Angeles is still accused of being suburban, despite evidence to the contrary.  They do have an interesting entertainment industry, as a lot of professional sports teams, and they definitely have the concerts and other stuff that we would like to have here but they also have something that is hard to come by in this area; money.  Money is why LA was able to build a great subway system in a rather short period of time.  Money is why LA can afford to rebuild downtown in less than a decade, regardless of what type of earthquakes or natural catastrophes they have there.  We don't have that type of money here.  I'm not even sure if they have it like that in Northern Virginia. 

Chicago is getting 52 new skyscrapers in an incredibly small amount of time.  We have the population to support that type of development here, but we don't have the money to make that work.  I'll be happy if we get light rail throughout Hampton Roads before I die.  I'm thinking like, at least 10 lines that can take people where they need to go.  And I keep my expectations low, not because of a lack of vision, or a lack of cooperation, but because the money just isn't here for those large projects to work.  The people who could make it happen are going to vote against it, and the people that really want it are powerless to make it happen.  But its better than Ohio, so I continue to stay here until I can position myself to go somewhere else. 

You said it all with the lower property taxes in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, which they can afford, for various reasons.  Taxes would raise throughout Hampton Roads, people would cry foul, and everyone who could afford to do so would move to North Carolina. 

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Norfolk and Portsmouth- put the two biggest ports under one city's jurisdiction, strengthen transit between the two and create a true urban core of Hampton Roads' longest inhabited spaces along the Elizabeth River. For obvious reasons, this will probably never happen, but with the Dillon Rule, the state, seeing the dysfunction currently in Portsmouth, could force the cities' hands and encourage a merger. 

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6 hours ago, Norfolk757Kid said:

Norfolk and Portsmouth- put the two biggest ports under one city's jurisdiction, strengthen transit between the two and create a true urban core of Hampton Roads' longest inhabited spaces along the Elizabeth River. For obvious reasons, this will probably never happen, but with the Dillon Rule, the state, seeing the dysfunction currently in Portsmouth, could force the cities' hands and encourage a merger. 

I don't see why this couldn't happen.  Definitely would happen before a merger with Virginia Beach.

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I'd love to see it happen, and maybe annex South Norfolk into the mix, to bring Norfolk to about 350-375K.

The catch: you run into an even bigger conundrum than you would by merging Norfolk and VB. Both Norfolk and Portsmouth have below average schools, crime, and higher property taxes. Then there's the controversy with Portsmouth's council.

I imagine it would take a ton of work to clean up a city merged between two cities that have an equal share of issues.

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Yeah, also isn't one of Portsmouth's main problems a lack of taxable property because of all the federal and military land (Coast Guard, Naval Hospital). Those institutions provide jobs but bring no money into the city's tax base, since they don't pay property taxes. Basically half the city's land is untaxable. That's how I understand it at least. So, from Norfolk's standpoint, on top of all of its own problems, Portsmouth comes with hefty baggage as a partner. 

But it would be cool to have one unified city spanning the Elizabeth River. The two cities are like fraternal twins. 

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On 8/27/2017 at 2:51 PM, BFG said:

It's been discussed numerous times up here and around town, but it's something that crosses my mind a lot. Every time Norfolk does something, VB announces plans to do something similar, and vice versa. Could a true merger between those two cities (or Norfolk and Chesapeake) really work, or is it a complicated disaster waiting to happen?

IMO, on paper, it's a great idea, and probably the most feasible one. You have people who live in VB, but work/play in Norfolk, and vice versa. But because the LRT expansion was shot down, someone who lives in Kempsville (in the case of Chesapeake, let's say Greenbrier) still has to drive to the base in Norfolk and sit in traffic. And that's not changing anytime soon. Creating one city could possibly change that. For building the economy and bringing more tourist and federal money to the region, it makes a ton of sense. It would probably become a lot easier to bring jobs here, knowing you could bring something to an area of 700K (500K with Chesapeake). I think we get more transportation dollars knowing we now have a city of 700K. I also think moving City Hall to Town Center becomes inevitable, as it probably becomes the central-most part of this larger city.

However, I think this deal potentially hurts VB/Chesapeake. Both have a lower property tax than Norfolk, excellent schools and a much lower crime rate. I'm sure they don't want to have to prop Norfolk up in those areas, and that's understandable. Also, what do you do with your councils? I highly doubt you'll see a combined 20-person council, but the areas are so spread out, I don't know if 11 members would adequately represent either. Would Mayor Alexander or Mayor Sessoms give up their positions, or still retain a title overseeing the respective "districts" of Norfolk and VB? I believe the boroughs of NYC have borough presidents; maybe something like that? Maybe allow the current council members to still represent their wards, but still elect a new 11-person council?

This is all just speculation; obviously it would need to be fleshed out over a number of years, but I'd love to see a true feasibility study outlining pros and cons and eliminating this back and forth we keep seeing, most recently with the two arenas. Could a merger work, or could parts of either city become part of Norfolk (i.e. South Norfolk now becomes part of Berkley, or the Bayside/Newtown Road area become part of Norfolk)?

Days of annexation are far behind us.  All standing cities annexed what they could, and it is what it is.

I am told that a merger would have to happen at the state level. Sort of how New York City came about.  I am all for merging cities on the Southside, and another merger among cities on the Peninsula.  I am not for merging all seven cities of Hampton Roads.  I think that to do so is untenable and entirely too much.  The Peninsula has it's own personality, and the Southside has another.  I see no real benefit in bringing the two together.

I doubt that Chesapeake would merge with anyone.  Chesapeake is where people that do not want to be bothered with the experiment that is Hampton Roads go.  Especially Southern Chesapeake.  I could see Virginia Beach and Norfolk merging.  Culturally, a merger, at the very least, of some of the more affluent areas of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, all of which are conterminous anyway, makes sense.  Let Norfolk pick up the scraps, reclaim areas like South Norfolk and those areas that border Virginia Beach.  Norfolk could get up to around 300,000, maybe 350,000, best case scenario.  Combined Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, or what is left of those areas, would easily reach 600,000 or more.

But the reality is that affluent areas, in the United States, simply are not as big as any combination of any of the counties or boroughs in Hampton Roads.  What happened in the past, is that we created enormous cities, but the majority of the city was still poor.  Look at New York City; Manhattan and Brooklyn, that makes a lot of sense.  The other boroughs, not so much; even though those other boroughs have affluent neighborhoods if you were to look at it, I mean really look at it, Manhattan and Brooklyn were the only standing cities.  The rest of that is just urbanized farmland.  

That is the issue I have with merging all seven cities.  All you're doing is making Suffolk or Chesapeake out to be the new Queens, or the new Bronx.  Virginia Beach acquires even more wealth and becomes the Brooklyn of the area.  Norfolk is the new Manhattan.  

The best one can hope for is that Norfolk can reclaim South Norfolk. I don't think that Chesapeake really wants it anymore. 

The elephant in the room is that no one wants Portsmouth.  Norfolk and Portsmouth should merge.  And Virginia Beach and Chesapeake should merge.  I think that this is the least controversial option.  And maybe Hampton and Newport News.  Leave Suffolk and Williamsburg the way that they are.  Hampton was a better situation but no more, after Newport News went about the business of dismantling their public housing.  Same as what will happen when Norfolk dismantles theirs; whoever left Portsmouth public housing and went over to Norfolk will probably end up back in Portsmouth again.  We already know that it is going to happen.  Norfolk is only going to get another few thousand people into the city once they start building up where those housing projects exist.  Plus they said that they were going to create lakes where the flooding is insufferable.  This may create a shift towards Midtown, or Uptown, whatever, with the density, which I am all for but that also creates a situation where Norfolk becomes even less affordable than it is right now.  

Mergers increase population, but they also amplify problems.  This is one of the ways in which cities like Chicago and New York found themselves in the position that they are in (concerning disparities in wealth and poverty).  The last thing we need is a mini Compton, East New York, or South Central, in Hampton Roads.  

Edited by chris722
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I agree with most of your points, but I don't think South Norfolk merging with Norfolk would be as inevitable as you make it out to be. South Norfolk has never been a part of Norfolk. The main reason that Chesapeake even exists is because Norfolk was attempting to annex the portion of Norfolk County that surrounded the independent city of South Norfolk. Neither party wanted to be consumed by Norfolk, so they joined forces and merged to create the City of Chesapeake. It's true that current-day South Norfolk probably has more in common with Norfolk than it does southern Chesapeake, but I still doubt that any hypothetical partial merger would go over smoothly.

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On 12/3/2017 at 12:53 PM, chris722 said:

Days of annexation are far behind us.  All standing cities annexed what they could, and it is what it is.

I am told that a merger would have to happen at the state level. Sort of how New York City came about.  I am all for merging cities on the Southside, and another merger among cities on the Peninsula.  I am not for merging all seven cities of Hampton Roads.  I think that to do so is untenable and entirely too much.  The Peninsula has it's own personality, and the Southside has another.  I see no real benefit in bringing the two together.

I doubt that Chesapeake would merge with anyone.  Chesapeake is where people that do not want to be bothered with the experiment that is Hampton Roads go.  Especially Southern Chesapeake.  I could see Virginia Beach and Norfolk merging.  Culturally, a merger, at the very least, of some of the more affluent areas of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, all of which are conterminous anyway, makes sense.  Let Norfolk pick up the scraps, reclaim areas like South Norfolk and those areas that border Virginia Beach.  Norfolk could get up to around 300,000, maybe 350,000, best case scenario.  Combined Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, or what is left of those areas, would easily reach 600,000 or more.

But the reality is that affluent areas, in the United States, simply are not as big as any combination of any of the counties or boroughs in Hampton Roads.  What happened in the past, is that we created enormous cities, but the majority of the city was still poor.  Look at New York City; Manhattan and Brooklyn, that makes a lot of sense.  The other boroughs, not so much; even though those other boroughs have affluent neighborhoods if you were to look at it, I mean really look at it, Manhattan and Brooklyn were the only standing cities.  The rest of that is just urbanized farmland.  

That is the issue I have with merging all seven cities.  All you're doing is making Suffolk or Chesapeake out to be the new Queens, or the new Bronx.  Virginia Beach acquires even more wealth and becomes the Brooklyn of the area.  Norfolk is the new Manhattan.  

The best one can hope for is that Norfolk can reclaim South Norfolk. I don't think that Chesapeake really wants it anymore. 

The elephant in the room is that no one wants Portsmouth.  Norfolk and Portsmouth should merge.  And Virginia Beach and Chesapeake should merge.  I think that this is the least controversial option.  And maybe Hampton and Newport News.  Leave Suffolk and Williamsburg the way that they are.  Hampton was a better situation but no more, after Newport News went about the business of dismantling their public housing.  Same as what will happen when Norfolk dismantles theirs; whoever left Portsmouth public housing and went over to Norfolk will probably end up back in Portsmouth again.  We already know that it is going to happen.  Norfolk is only going to get another few thousand people into the city once they start building up where those housing projects exist.  Plus they said that they were going to create lakes where the flooding is insufferable.  This may create a shift towards Midtown, or Uptown, whatever, with the density, which I am all for but that also creates a situation where Norfolk becomes even less affordable than it is right now.  

Mergers increase population, but they also amplify problems.  This is one of the ways in which cities like Chicago and New York found themselves in the position that they are in (concerning disparities in wealth and poverty).  The last thing we need is a mini Compton, East New York, or South Central, in Hampton Roads.  

I agree that merging all of Hampton Roads would be essentially impossible. If I could redraw boundaries, I would do the following (yes, I'm aware that this would never happen for a number of reasons)....

1. Peninsula: Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson, and York County merge into one city.

2. Western Hampton Roads: Take Chesapeake west of the Elizabeth River (ie: Western Branch, Deep Creek, Great Bridge) and combine it with Harborview and Eastern Suffolk.

3. Norfolk: Combine Norfolk and Portsmouth along with Chesapeake's South Norfolk and even small portions of western VB.

4. Virginia Beach: Take what's left of VB down to the "green line" and combine it with Greenbrier.

5. South Hampton Roads County: Take the southern half or so of VB (south of the "green line") along with the Hickory area (and south) in Chesapeake and what's left of Suffolk and combine it into a large county.

 

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1 hour ago, HRVT said:

I agree that merging all of Hampton Roads would be essentially impossible. If I could redraw boundaries, I would do the following (yes, I'm aware that this would never happen for a number of reasons)....

1. Peninsula: Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson, and York County merge into one city.

2. Western Hampton Roads: Take Chesapeake west of the Elizabeth River (ie: Western Branch, Deep Creek, Great Bridge) and combine it with Harborview and Eastern Suffolk.

3. Norfolk: Combine Norfolk and Portsmouth along with Chesapeake's South Norfolk and even small portions of western VB.

4. Virginia Beach: Take what's left of VB down to the "green line" and combine it with Greenbrier.

5. South Hampton Roads County: Take the southern half or so of VB (south of the "green line") along with the Hickory area (and south) in Chesapeake and what's left of Suffolk and combine it into a large county.

I had a similar concept, except I'd merge Chesapeake and most of VB and convert it to "Tidewater (or Hampton Roads) County". VB would extend from the Oceanfront to Oceana Blvd. on the east, towards about Dam Neck Rd. on the south end. 

Towns in the new county: Pembroke, Lynnhaven, Oceana, Pungo, Nimmo, Kempsville, Princess Anne, Greenbrier, Great Bridge, Hickory, Western Branch, Deep Creek, Bower's Hill.

Really like #3, and would allow Norfolk to annex up to about Witchduck Road. I think that would boost Norfolk's population to 400K, if not more. It would also give Norfolk a few more options for light rail expansion.

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I remember it so well. In those days I actually subscribed to the paper. I took it to work, took a brief look at the front page and about fainted - at first. 

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On 12/5/2017 at 7:26 PM, HRVT said:

I agree that merging all of Hampton Roads would be essentially impossible. If I could redraw boundaries, I would do the following (yes, I'm aware that this would never happen for a number of reasons)....

1. Peninsula: Hampton, Newport News, Poquoson, and York County merge into one city.

2. Western Hampton Roads: Take Chesapeake west of the Elizabeth River (ie: Western Branch, Deep Creek, Great Bridge) and combine it with Harborview and Eastern Suffolk.

3. Norfolk: Combine Norfolk and Portsmouth along with Chesapeake's South Norfolk and even small portions of western VB.

4. Virginia Beach: Take what's left of VB down to the "green line" and combine it with Greenbrier.

5. South Hampton Roads County: Take the southern half or so of VB (south of the "green line") along with the Hickory area (and south) in Chesapeake and what's left of Suffolk and combine it into a large county.

 

Any of those 5 scenarios work for me, as any of them would result in a larger city, thus more tax revenue due to a higher population, and maybe something could get done around here.

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But a larger tax burden due to more expansive services- Larger police force, fire, teachers, roads, human services, etc.

 the grass isn't always greener...

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I think the biggest threat to a merger is definitely tax rates. It's about $1.15 per $100 assessed value in Norfolk, but I think VB is around $0.99. And as we all know, VB will fight a tax increase kicking and screaming, esp. if it's for something progressive. 

Much as I'd love to see it happen, Norfolk has to work out a few kinks first, primarily the tax rate and improving its schools. Either that or VB would have to be willing to sacrifice and think long term. Combining resources and simply collaborating would be much simpler, and probably just as beneficial.

Somehow officially become Norfolk-Virginia Beach (or vice versa), the way you have Tampa-St. Pete, Dallas-Ft. Worth, or Minneapolis-St. Paul. With Chesapeake on its way to becoming the 2nd largest city, maybe throw it in there and form a "Tri-Cities" partnership. Remember the article proposing the arena at Military Circle, with all three cities pitching in? Make more projects like that, and get the three involved. It won't be easy, but it's going to become more and more needed, and we can't keep kicking the can down the road.

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There is 0 way VB would merger with Norfolk.  The difference between us and the cities you mentioned is that the former of the two are all the larger, more dominant city and there is no question about it, they aren't the St. Pete Rays, Ft. Worth Cowboys and the St. Paul Timberwolves.  If Virginia Beach wouldn't help fund an arena in their own city they sure as hell aren't going to fund one in another city. Remember when VB  threw a fit when Norfolk asked if they could build a service road for the Outlets? A Service Road! This area would be better served if no one asked VB to do anything so they can stop wasting their own peoples tax money on fruitless studies they already know they aren't going to approve.

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