Why There Are No Towns or Counties in Southeastern Virginia

in 1907, Norfolk was a thriving port city and Princess Anne County was a rural farm area (with a small beach resort on the Atlantic Ocean shoreline)
in 1907, Norfolk was a thriving port city and Princess Anne County was a rural farm area (with a small beach resort on the Atlantic Ocean shoreline)
Source: Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection - Virginia Historical Topographic Maps, Norfolk

The population in Southeastern Virginia grew rapidly with urbanization after World War II, as the Navy expanded installations in the region.

In 1952, Elizabeth City County merged into the city of Hampton. That same year, Warwick County converted to Warwick City, which (in Virginia) increased the authority of local officials. In 1958, Warwick City and Newport News merged to form the city of Newport News. Consolidation streamlined the decision process and reduced costs for providing urban services, especially construction of schools, drinking water plants, and wastewater facilities.

Some city formation in Southeastern Virginia was triggered by political disputes over who would control the development of urban services, and who would pay for them. Between 1940 and 1950, the population of the city of Norfolk grew from 35,828 to 213,513.1

Rural areas surrounding Norfolk were not inclined to join into voluntary metropolitan partnerships and contribute extra taxes for development of urban services that would be concentrated around the growing population center of the city of Norfolk.

After all, most of the voters who would benefit from increased urban services would vote in the city of Norfolk, not in the surrounding counties. Norfolk had almost twice the population of the surrounding counties in 1950 - only 42,277 people lived in Princess Anne County (now the city of Virginia Beach) and 110,371 people lived in the City of South Norfolk and Norfolk County (now combined into the City of Chesapeake).2

Norfolk city officials sought to annex land from adjacent counties. Annexation would increase the city's tax base, since real estate and property taxes from the annexed land would flow into the city's bank account and finance additional services. The city was especially interested in annexing commercial property that had already been developed.

Shopping districts and office buildings generate taxes, but do not require a city to offer many services. In particular, commercial property does not require schools for students...

Surrounding counties saw annexation by the city of Norfolk as a threat. After annexation, the counties would end up with less tax revenue to support their schools and other county services. If Norfolk succeeded in annexing commercial property, then elected officials in the counties would have to raise taxes of the remaining residents to finance existing services and to deliver on campaign promises to offer additional services.

The surrounding counties responded by incorporating as independent cities. In 1963, the city of South Norfolk and Norfolk County merged to create the City of Chesapeake, and Princess Anne County merged with the town of Virginia Beach to form the City of Virginia Beach (the largest city in Virginia in both area and now in population).

As independent cities, they were immune to annexation by Norfolk. The power to resist annexation gave Virginia Beach leverage when Norfolk proposed changes in land use along the boundary. For example, in 2014 Norfolk planned to convert the city-owned Lake Wright Golf Course into an outlet mall, but 38 acres of land owned by the city were located within the jurisdiction of Virginia Beach. Norfolk was obliged to negotiate a rezoning of its land by Virginia Beach officials, who sought to get Norfolk to build road improvements before rezoning land to allow a parking lot.3

Norfolk was forced to negotiate with Virginia Beach as a co-equal city, in order to convert the Lake Wright Golf Course south of the airport into the Simon Premium Outlet Park
Norfolk was forced to negotiate with Virginia Beach as a co-equal city, in order to convert the Lake Wright Golf Course south of the airport into the Simon Premium Outlet Park
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online

Urbanization continued to spread in Southeastern Virginia throughout the 1960's. In 1972, Nansemond County converted into the city of Nansemond, and in 1974 it merged into the City of Suffolk.

As a result, all political jurisdictions in Southeastern Virginia are independent cities; there are no counties remaining. Since towns exist only within counties, there are no towns in Southeastern Virginia now because all the counties in that corner of Virginia have converted into cities.

References

1."Historical Census Browser," University of Virginia, http://mapserver.lib.virginia.edu/ (last checked March 1, 2014)
2. "Historical Census Browser," University of Virginia, http://mapserver.lib.virginia.edu/ (last checked March 1, 2014)
3. "Outlet mall plan hits roadblock as Beach resists Norfolk’s plan for street changes," Hampton Roads Business Journal, February 6, 2014, http://insidebiz.com/node/375811 (last checked March 1, 2014)

Norfolk is hemmed in today by incorporated cities on all sides, and has no opportunity to expand by annexing land from an adjacent county
Norfolk is hemmed in today by incorporated cities on all sides, and has no opportunity to expand by annexing land from an adjacent county
Source: US Fish and Wildlife Service, Wetlands Mapper


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