City council votes to bring skating rink back, discusses group home

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

In about two months, Williamsburg residents can return to what was a very popular ice skating rink in Colonial Williamsburg.

On Thursday, the council voted to approve a three year deal between Colonial Williamsburg and the city to keep the ice skating rink, managed by Magic Ice USA, coming back for the near future.

For the next few winters, it'll be in the same place as last year -- on Duke of Gloucester Street -- from November until February. Council members were uniform in their support of the bill, which they saw as a boon for the community.

"Being a college student at the time, a lot of my friends said 'we're going to the ice rink' instead of the bars and restaurants that we usually go to on the weekends," council member Benny Zhang said.

Vice mayor D. Scott Foster spoke to how it made his part of town a bit livelier.

"I was living within walking distance at the time," said Foster. "It was nice to see people around into the nine o'clock hour."

At 48-foot by 84-foot, the dimensions of this year's rink differ from its 2015 counterpart. City manager Marvin Collins mentioned that the rink will bring visitors into the city.

"It's a slower time," he said. "It actually will bring guests and locals in."

Group home coming to Williamsburg

In a matter months, people who were once at Eastern State Hospital will be moved to a group home in Williamsburg -- and some residents are unhappy about it.

Gateway, a Virginia-based company, will run the group home. City attorney Christina Workman Shelton, who met with representatives from the company, says that they expect eight people and two staff in the home.

The city council discussed their concerns with the group home, which are a lack of response from Gateway to the city's questions and the home's proximity to Walsingham Academy.

Because the agreement with Gateway is with the state and not the city, Williamsburg's collective hands are tied: They have no control over the dynamics between Gateway and state representatives from the Dept. of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

"The city has no role to play in this process," said city manager Marvin Collins.

State government does preempt local government, but mayor Paul Freiling still thinks that Gateway should be answering the queries coming from Williamsburg for the sake of accountability.

"The seeming reluctance to answer our questions, to me, is inexcusable," he said.

Virginia law does not require Gateway to let the surrounding community know it is coming in, and they don't regulate the closeness of a group home to schools or daycares. As it stands, the group home will be very close to Walsingham Academy.

"Where is the state's concerns for the children involved?" said school president Mary Jeanne Oesterle. "Walsingham has preschoolers, not just K through 12 students. It's as close as walking from here [the Stryker Center] to the post office. The proximity to the school is a real, real issue."

Reach Wright by phone at 757-345-2343.

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