James City administrator will discuss land sale with Colonial Williamsburg

County administrator Bryan Hill said supervisors have given him the go-ahead to pursue discussions with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation about the possibility of buying land the foundation owns in the county.

Hill said he plans to meet with Colonial Williamsburg president Mitchell Reiss in the next one to two weeks to begin the discussions.

Colonial Williamsburg has asked the city of Williamsburg as well as James City and York counties for tax relief following a July disclosure from Reiss that the foundation has spiraled downhill economically in recent years.

Colonial Williamsburg owns 11 properties in James City County worth $8.3 million, according to James City County property records. Seven of the 11 properties are along Pocahontas Trail, and all those properties are zoned for general business, James City County property records show. None of the properties have structures on them.

In 2016, the foundation paid more than $76,000 in total taxes to James City County, according to a Colonial Williamsburg fact sheet on the schedule of taxes paid.

Hill, and York County administrator Neil Morgan have both said that neither can offer an exemption from real estate taxes because they do not have the legal authority under state law to waive the taxes, which Reiss specifically requested when he announced a restructuring of the foundation June 30.

“What I’m looking at, point blank, is as a part of the Historic Triangle and the collaborative that we have here as a regional entity, I’m looking at ways to help Colonial Williamsburg because it impacts James City County,” Hill said in July. “What has been provided to me, I can’t react to unless some (state) legislative action is taken. So that being said, I’m looking at other avenues to help Colonial Williamsburg with the interests of our partnership.”

Williamsburg city spokeswoman Lee Ann Hartman said city staff is still looking at Colonial Williamsburg’s tax relief proposal.

She said the city has a more complicated task in reviewing the foundation’s proposal. City staff will need to review business license fees and issues with the tax status of the foundation’s land following its restructuring.

The foundation owns 302 properties in Williamsburg with a value of more than $200 million, according to Williamsburg property records. It paid Williamsburg more than $2.1 million in real estate taxes in 2016.

York County officials have said they will not grant Colonial Williamsburg’s proposal for real estate tax relief, but Morgan said the foundation may have other options for financial relief, including selling some of its land to the county.

Morgan said the county will not pursue getting permission from the General Assembly to allow a tax exemption because the real estate tax the foundation pays in York County “isn’t all that significant.”

In York County, the foundation paid $114,000 in real estate taxes in 2016.

Just one of the properties Colonial Williamsburg owns in York County has anything built on it, a 1,674-square-foot, house at 111 Carrs Hill Road the foundation bought along with three adjacent properties from a single owner in 1988, according to York County property records.

The most valuable property the foundation owns in York County is a nearly 400-acre tract at 409 Waller Mill Road bought by the foundation in 1983 for $3.1 million, with a current assessed value of $8.6 million.

State Sen. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, said he has spoken with staff at the Division of Legislative Services, a legislative-branch agency which provides non-partisan policy research and legal analysis for the General Assembly. He said localities, including Williamsburg, would not be able to exempt taxes for commercial uses, but could do so for non-profit education and historic uses.

“They came back and said that you could set up some sort of grant,” Mason said, “with the tax equal to or in the vicinity of the tax payment.”

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