Ten-story buildings in Williamsburg?

An idea that's sure to be controversial came up at the meeting of the Williamsburg Economic Development Authority Wednesday: the possibility of relaxing the city's height restrictions to allow buildings up to 10 stories high in the Quarterpath section of the city.

The issue arose during the presentation of a strategic plan update on the Quarterpath area.

As authority member Robby Willey pointed out, the area is the one large tracts of land - it's over 400 acre - that is left undeveloped in the city.

"This is our green field," he said.

The entire tract is owned by Riverside Health System, except for a small parcel at the corner of Quarterpath Road and Battery Boulevard that was recently sold to S. L. Nusbaum Realty Company, according to Economic Development Manager Michele DeWitt.

William Carr said it might be a chance to get some Class A office space in greater Williamsburg.

Adam Steely said developers usually like to build office buildings in multi-story towers.

"What's our limit?" he asked Elaine McBeth, the Planning Commission liaison to the EDA.

"Four stories," McBeth replied.

"I think that's a part of town, it's not near Colonial Williamsburg or the college, you can't see it from there, where we might want to relax our restrictions in the name of economic development," said authority chairman Thomas Gillman. "Maybe we could think about a 10-story building."

"I have a hard time wrapping my head around a 10-story building in Williamsburg," McBeth said. "Maybe six stories?"

It was mentioned that a retirement community might be a good fit on the property, with its proximity to Riverside's Doctor's Hospital  Williamsburg.

Carr and Gillman mentioned several such communities in Norfolk and Virginia Beach that are built as high-rise buildings.

McBeth and Vice Mayor Paul Freiling, City Council's liaison to the EDA, didn't think a proposal to build a 10-story building in Williamsburg would be very popular if it reached the level of the Planning Commission or council.

"But that's the value of public discussion of these issues," Freiling said. "You never know."

DeWitt said city staff has let Riverside know that if they are approached by developers with plans like that, not to just turn them away.

"That's a conversation that we are willing to have," she said.

She also said her office has made sure that all the economic development professionals in the state know that the tract is available.

Most of the property, DeWitt explained, is zoned residential. It has the potential for the by-right development of more than 1,400 homes.

Another recommendation of the EDA team that wrote the report on the Quarterpath area was to improve traffic on Quarterpath Road and to improve and reinforce the bridge over Tutters Neck Pond to allow heavier traffic.

However, that runs contrary to the city's plans for that road.

"That bridge is a mid-seven figure project," Freiling said.

Instead of improving the bridge, the city would like to close  a part of the road to vehicular traffic all together once development of the Quarterpath tract has reached the point where planned connecting roads will reach from Battery Boulevard to Route 60.

Freiling say the city has the opportunity to complete a several mile bike and pedestrian loop there.

Carr said development of the property would  probably move more swiftly if the road were put in place.

"Usually developers like to see infrastructure in place first," he said.

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Vaughan can be reached at (757)345-2343.

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