James City Planning Commission recommends residential development near Williamsburg Crossing

Virginia Gazette

The Planning Commission recommended approval Wednesday for a proposal to build a 200-unit residential development near the intersection of routes 5 and 199. The meeting drew heated public comments about the impact the development could have on neighboring communities.

Neighbors concerned about the development proposal for The Promenade at John Tyler said it would bring too much crowding. Others said it would clog traffic. Still more were concerned about the impact on wildlife. Nearly 30 people showed up to the public hearing on the proposal at the James City County Government Center.

The Planning Commission got a 3-D tour of the proposed development from Vernon Geddy, an attorney for Virignia Beach-based builder Franciscus Homes.

Geddy said the project would be a “shot in the arm” to the property, adjacent to Williamsburg Crossing. Several retail outlets have sat vacant in the shopping center.

Geddy said the housing units would range in price from $170,000 to $350,000. Additionally, Geddy said a valuable feature of the proposal was proffers to improve King’s Way, a road he said that has not been kept well and is need of repair.

Most of the opposition for the project came from residents of the Winston Terrace subdivision, which would be adjacent to The Promenade at John Tyler.

 “Can everybody that’s against it just stand up?” asked Glenn Farnsworth, who said he has lived in the adjacent Winston Terrace community since 1966. About 80 percent of the meeting attendees stood. As each speaker finished with their remarks, opponents of the proposal clapped softly, a few of them murmured in the audience. At one point, Planning Commission Chairman Rich Krapf asked a man in the back of the room to lower his voice so he could hear a speaker.

“We’re a neighborhood of single family homes, condos don’t really mesh with what I’d prefer to be on my backdoor. This development is designed for maximizing the amount of units and minimizing the amount of green space,” he said. Farnsworth said any construction would impact wildlife in the area, which is located near the intersection of Route 199 and Route 5.

“The traffic coming out of Winston Drive is already atrocious. I can’t imagine what it would be like with another 300 to 400 vehicles coming out. The density… appears to be a little bit on the high side,” Parker said.

Jim Whitehead, who has led a petition to oppose the development, questioned the results of a study that estimated the community would lead to more than 30 additional children attending Williamsburg-James City County Schools. Whitehead said he believed the number would be larger, and would strain the existing infrastructure in the school system.

“The schools are already jammed, are they going to proffer enough money to provide 10 new teachers?” said Whitehead. Under the current proposal, Franciscus Homes would proffer $1.43 million to the county, roughly $7,000 per unit. The majority of that money would come for the additional school children.

The commercial development is not planned in the initial phase of construction. Robin Bledsoe, who sits on the Planning Commission, asked Geddy if it would still happen. “Absolutely,” he replied.

“It would be down the road somewhere, it wasn’t something that was going to be immediate,” he said. Geddy said Franciscus Homes has a 20 year history of development with James City County. The company also developed the nearby La Fontaine community.

“It looks like what the applicant has done here is come forward with a creative and conceivably viable solution to develop the property,” said Heath Richardson, who sits on the Planning Commission. “A lot of conversation in our comprehensive plan review is about affordable housing."

Commissioner Robin Bledsoe echoed Richardson’s remarks. “ I don’t understand how we’re going to get all these people in and out of there. I know how desperately we need affordable housing in this area, where our workforce can actually afford to live so they don’t have to go other communities."

Commissioner Christopher Basic said while he was concerned about traffic, he was also troubled by vacant storefronts at Williamsburg Crossing.

“No application is perfect,”Basic said, referring to the proposal for The Promenade at John Tyler.

 But he added, “If I still lived there knowing there’s 18 stores now vacant..that indicates there’s a downward trend, if I lived there I wouldn’t want 500,000 square feet of empty, dark, dilapidated shopping center as a neighbor. Voting this application down represents more problems than it does solutions,” Basic said.

 The proposal will now go to the James City County Board of Supervisors for approval.

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