Sept. 29--CHESAPEAKE -- The water oozes from hundreds of acres of woods down a slope into two ditches on the far southwestern side of the Edinburgh subdivision.
Through farm fields and under country roads, it meanders along, into a larger ditch, then a wider stream and finally the Northwest River, the city's main source of drinking water, 6 miles away.
It is near the beginning of this journey, in a patch of trees at the Thistley Lane cul-de-sac, where the trouble began for developers of the Edinburgh neighborhood more than 10 years ago.
The problem is wetlands and what exactly is in that water that migrates away from the development.
Between a fight with regulators over the wetlands and the recession that struck the high-end real estate market particularly hard, Edinburgh has yet to become the posh paradise that its developers and some in the city government had dreamed of. Just 98 homes have been built and sold in a development where, once, as many as 800 were imagined.
Now there are signs of hope, as construction has revved up again and the lawsuit over the wetlands appears to be coming to a close. But for the developers, who are now on the losing side of the case, a defeat would mean giving up on a key parcel of land worth millions of dollars.
Edinburgh has been controversial since its beginning.
Twenty-five years after developers envisioned a 658-acre oasis for upper-income commuters in southern Chesapeake, Edinburgh remains dotted with vacant lots. A clubhouse and fitness center have yet to be built and plans for a golf course have been dropped.
Realtor and developer Wendell A. White had the first vision, back in the 1980s.
"It was a really nice piece of land. We decided to buy it and develop it," White said.
As for the origin of the name, yes, it comes from the city in Scotland but there is no other connection.
"I just thought it was a good name," he said.
He and other partners developed a plan that initially called for 500 single-family homes and 300 townhouses on farmland and forest west of South Battlefield Boulevard, north of Sign Pine Road, about 7 miles from the North Carolina border and 20 minutes from downtown Norfolk.
Realizing the plan was overly ambitious and would be fraught with opposition, White and his partners scaled it back to 220 single-family homes and a golf course. But they still needed the city to approve a rezoning.
That's when the uproar started.
Some residents of southern Chesapeake argued that this kind of development would ruin their rural surroundings, replete with miles of cornfields and horse farms.
Susan Cole and her husband moved to their 3-acre lot with a blue-trimmed brick ranch house on Sign Pine Road 35 years ago.
"We just like the serenity," she said from her sitting room overlooking a canopy of tall oaks in her backyard.
Cole found herself at the forefront of the fight against Edinburgh. Teaching fifth-grade civics at the time, she thought she could use the experience in her class. But the lesson she learned left her jaded.
In late 1989, despite opposition from the residents, then-Mayor David Wynne and even the city's own planning department, the City Council approved the development in a 6-3 vote. Many remember the stickers and signs emblazoned in orange that said "Edinburgh No!"
"We did all the things we were supposed to do," Cole said of the petition drive and lobbying efforts against the rezoning. "To us it was so patently wrong."
White and his partners countered with newspaper ads touting the project's benefits.
But White didn't remain in the project long. He said his plan hinged on a new highway with an Edinburgh exit. When that didn't happen quickly enough, he sold the land to another developer, R.G. Moore. Moore then sat on the property for more than 10 years until construction of the Chesapeake Expressway began and the city extended a sewer line to the property.
Then came the wetlands problem.