Due to an outpouring of public criticism, the James City County Board of Supervisors decided to hold off on a decision regarding a height wavier for an attraction at Busch Gardens Tuesday.
SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment LLC, which owns Busch Gardens, requested a height waiver for a project not to exceed 355 feet in height above finished grade, or 435 feet above sea level, according to a staff report.
Kevin Lembke, president of Busch Gardens, cast the new attraction as a critical need for the park, which has to innovate to keep up with competing amusement parks.
“This is a very critical decision going forward for our park,” he said. “This is the first major step to realize that development in future years.”
But supervisors decided to table its decision, owing to criticism of the project by Kingsmill residents and a desire for further study of the attraction’s noise impacts. The board intends to revisit the application June 11.
“Hopefully that will give us some extra time,” Supervisor Ruth Larson said.
But it wasn’t unanimous. Supervisor Sue Sadler voted against the deferral.
“They are a good community asset for us. They help keep our tax rates low,” Sadler said, adding that people should know what they’re in for when they move somewhere.
It’s unclear exactly what the attraction will look like.
“It will be a tall, slender structure,” said Suzy Cheely, Busch Gardens senior leader for design and engineering. She said the attraction will be near the center of the park.
The staff report states the attraction will have a “lattice-type construction.”
The ambiguity rankled some Kingsmill residents, several of whom voiced strong opposition to the project during the public hearing on the request.
High on the list of complaints were a lack of understanding about what the project will be and fears that the project would be an eyesore and create too much noise.
“The nature of the proposed attraction is still not defined, so you must assume the worst,” said Andrew Lloyd-Williams, a Kingsmill resident.
The park had not done a good job in public outreach to the Kingsmill community, and its efforts haven’t addressed resident’s questions, Lloyd-Williams said.
Though planned to be built in an interior area of the park, the attraction is expected to be visible in areas of the Kingsmill development and along Route 143 where the park’s existing attractions can’t be seen, according to the staff report.
Cheely noted that though the park tries to be engaged with the wider community on its activity, it’s a business practice to keep details of new attractions under wraps. That tends to unravel as time goes on and a project develops.
“We can’t keep everything secret because as we get closer there are certain permits that are required,” she said. “We do try to keep our cards close to the vest for competitive reasons. Our business is such that it really requires that.”
Jack Jacobs, 757-298-6007, firstname.lastname@example.org, @jajacobs_