‘Air Station’ warehouse moves closer to fall groundbreaking at Shirley T. Holland park

Published 4:21 pm Friday, July 14, 2023

The first occupant of the Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park’s long-planned third phase could break ground as early as this fall, Isle of Wight County Economic Development Director Chris Morello estimates.

County supervisors voted unanimously on July 13 to approve exceptions to the county’s highway corridor overlay district requirements in order to permit a roughly 130,000-square-foot warehouse that for much of the year has gone by the codename “Project Air Station.”

Air Station General LC, a Virginia Beach company, has contracted to purchase 135 acres along Walters Highway currently owned by the county’s Economic Development Authority.

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The approved exceptions will authorize the facility to have half of its 140 loading bays face Walters Highway. Morello called the July 13 vote a “milestone” in the project’s development timeline, but said the company still needs to submit its site plan.

The fall groundbreaking estimate is contingent on the project’s site plan being approved in the near future. Construction would then take an estimated 18 to 22 months.

The county’s highway corridor overlay requirements would ordinarily mandate no less than 16% of any building facade visible from a public road to consist of windows and doors, and would ordinarily prohibit loading doors from facing a highway. Air Station General contended in its submitted narrative that the installation of glass windows or doors in the active shipping and receiving area of the facility was “not practical” and that the geography of the land necessitates that the warehouse’s loading bays face the highway.

Only a narrow 35-acre strip is considered buildable, and is surrounded by roughly 100 acres of wetlands – an issue that affects most of the parcels in the park’s planned third phase. In 2019, when supervisors attempted to lure a Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice correctional center to the same parcel now slated for Air Station General, an environmental study determined much of Phase III to be wetlands due to the presence of loblolly pines, a tree the Army Corps of Engineers reclassified as a wetland plant in 2012.

County officials estimate Air Station General would employ 250 people at the warehouse, which would specialize in accepting shipping containers trucked in from the Port of Virginia and redistributing those containers to third-party trucks. The figure does not include temporary jobs related to the warehouse’s construction, according to Morello.

Plans for the warehouse have been in the works at least since January when supervisors voted to grant an EDA request on behalf of the company to repeal a requirement that Phase III Shirley T. Holland businesses connect to public water and sewer.

Plans to develop the park’s third phase began in 2013 when supervisors, unaware of the wetlands issue at the time, rezoned 969 acres as “conditional limited industrial.”