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2016 in Review: Williamsburg tackles tourism, housing issues

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

City officials started to look at issues involving senior housing and parking in tourism areas in 2016, while starting the search to find new leadership in key positions within the city and on the police force.

Some of the biggest stories in Williamsburg in 2016 included:

City addresses housing

The city lacks affordable housing, and housing for senior citizens, according to officials who started researching the issues in the past year.

Williamsburg doesn't have enough market-rate senior housing. Mayor Paul Freiling mentioned in the city's Goals, Initiatives and Outcomes that the city will actively look for solutions to the issue over the next two years at the very least.

Affordable housing can be hard to obtain for some of the area's underemployed residents, many of whom have jobs with restaurants, hotels and tourism attractions.

Rita Smith, the executive director at Williamsburg Area Faith in Action, said nearly every senior housing facilityhas too high a price tag for poor families, or a long waiting list.

Her organization helps older citizens who cannot leave their homes, but she hears often about older residents having trouble finding senior housing at a price they can afford.

Securing affordable senior housing is important for older citizens who can't get around their house because of health issues.

Finding available land and enticing developers into the area is one of many steps the city would need to take, and by placing the initiative into its goals for the next two years, the city has shown the issue is and will continue to be on its radar.

City eyes new tourism district

The city plans to give tax incentives to those entering a corridor along Capital Landing Road, which decades ago was a vital point to the city's tourism efforts.

In October, the City Council agreed to name part of the Northeast Triangle as a tourism zone where the city will help existing businesses and new businesses grow.

The move is part of redevelopment efforts around other parts of the city. Williamsburg is anticipating the future sale of the Williamsburg Shopping Center, and it bought a Richmond Road motel earlier this year.

By demolishing that motel, the city hopes to attract a business to take over that land and bolster some of the commerce and tourism in the area.

The land sits just adjacent to the shopping center and near the city's arts district. Another business there could become integral to redevelopment efforts in that region of the city and in the city's big-picture push for more tourism and sales dollars.

Parking at a premium in downtown

Walker Parking Consultants, a Tampa-based firm, studied parking in Williamsburg and saw that as many as a third of its parking spots go unused.

Part of the issue is that people don't know just where to look for available parking, which tends to make them think there isn't any within a reasonable walking distance, according to the firm.

The parking study is happening in conjunction with a downtown vibrancy study. City officials are hoping any changes that come from the studies will help people find parking, walk to stores and restaurants, then spend money with merchants.

Williamsburg's Economic Development Authority members weren't keen on suggestions to to hire a parking consultant to help people navigate the downtown area. Other ones intrigued the group, including an app that people can use to find open parking spots in real time.

The same firm that presented the parking study to the authority and the city's Planning Commission in September is due back early next year to make recommendations on Williamsburg's parking issues.

Public servants retire

Several city leaders retired in 2016. Police chief Dave Sloggie, who'd been with the department for 40 years, retires at the end of the year. He said he is looking forward to spending a more time with his family.

Reed Nester, the Williamsburg planning director, retired in July after 30 years with the city and 43-year career as a planner. Nester, an avid bicyclist, spent 13 years working in Winchester before coming to Williamsburg,

Clyde Haulman, a former mayor of the city of Williamsburg and an economics professor at the College of William and Mary, retired in March after 16 total years on City Council. He had previously served on the Williamsburg Social Services Advisory Board from 1996 to 1998, and spent time on the Williamsburg-James City County School Board in 1999 and 2000.

Stryker Center opened up

After years of battling temperature issues and mold in the Stryker Building, city officials gladly opened up the Styrker Center in March.

City Council started moving on the process of getting a new building in 2013.

Publicly accessible Wi-Fi and an environmentally friendly design are some features of the new building, which at 15,995 square feet dwarfs its predecessor. The new building cost $6.4 million to build.

Several city entities meet in the building, including the City Council, Economic Development Authority and the Planning Commission.

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

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