Planning Commission voted to approve Colonial Williamsburg’s proposal for Goodwin Square, but without a permanent video screen.
Instead, the board is recommending that Colonial Williamsburg put up a temporary screen in the plaza to be taken down after each event. The board agreed that the screen should be in the plaza for no more than three consecutive days, and for a maximum of 25 times per year.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Planning Commission approved requests for zoning ordinance amendments and a special-use permit that would allow Colonial Williamsburg to demolish the 48-spot P3 parking lot and build the pedestrian plaza in its place. The lot is bordered by Duke of Gloucester Street, North Boundary Street, Prince George Street and North Henry Street.
If approved by City Council, Goodwin Square would feature a play fountain for children, ample room for outdoor events and festivals, a public restroom building and additional outdoor seating for Merchants Square shoppers. Eight parking spaces would remain there.
The original proposal for the plaza also included a 12’ by 19’ video screen with a speaker system that would be permanently installed and would show movies, sporting events and advertisements for CW events.
Carolyn Murphy, the city’s planning and codes compliance director, said the video wall would be out of scale with the surrounding buildings, and would not be allowed to show advertisements per the city code.
Although Planning Commission members said Goodwin Square would be an attraction for local families and tourists looking for family-friendly gathering spaces, the board agreed that a permanent video screen in the plaza would detract from the overall atmosphere of the downtown area.
“I think it’s one of the better ideas relating to the downtown vibrancy plan,” Second Vice-Chair Andrew Edwards said. “I do agree with staff that the digital screen is a bit out of character and it’s out of scale regardless of the size, and a permanent speaker system would be intrusive.”
Board members and Carolyn Murphy, the city’s principal planner, also cited a downtown parking study commissioned by the city in 2016, and said that the loss of 40 spaces in the P3 lot could be offset by parking in either the Prince George Parking Garage or Colonial Williamsburg’s P6 lot.
“While we do lose some convenient parking, the utility gained by young families and tourists looking for a place to sit outweighs those displaced parking spaces,” said board member Caleb Rogers.
Planning Commission voted 5-1 to approve the plaza, with member Greg Granger casting the lone dissenting vote. First Vice-Chair Jeffrey Klee abstained from the discussion and vote as he is a Colonial Williamsburg employee.
“To me, there are too many variables left to be determined in the screen,” Granger said. “The size, the shape, there’s just too many pieces of that puzzle, and I would’ve been a ‘yes’ if the screen had been removed.”
Around 35 area residents filled the Stryker Center’s city council chambers for the hearing, with around 15 speaking during the public comment period. While some supported the project, others said it would not be worth the loss in convenient parking spaces.
City resident Stacy Kern-Scheerer said the plaza would be a boon to young families in the area looking for fun weekend activities for their children. Despite her support for the project, however, she and other parents who spoke during the meeting said the video screen would be an unwelcome distraction for kids.
“The one aspect in CW’s proposal is the screen, it’s pretty atrocious,” she said. “I would not take my kid to get an ice cream cone in a community space with a big screen. As I suspect other families do, we get outside to get away from screens.”
County resident J. Mott Robertson said Goodwin Square would be less appealing during the winter months, and that the loss of convenient parking spots would hurt nearby store owners and handicapped Merchants Square shoppers.
“The P3 parking is needed more than a park or green space,” he said. “The only merchants that will be helped are the restaurant owners, but to the people who sell other items, they will not be helped the conversion of necessary parking into an unnecessary park.”
Jeff Duncan, Colonial Williamsburg’s vice president of real estate, said he considers the video wall to be an integral part of the project, and hopes to return with a request for a permanent video screen in the future if the temporary screen is received well by the community.
“Our ability to have something in place 25 times a year will allow us to test the viability of that thinking and come back to the city at a later date with something more permanent,” he said.
The request will now go before City Council for approval at its December meeting. If approved by Council, a final site plan for Goodwin Square would have to be approved by the Architectural Review Board and Planning Commission before construction can begin, Murphy said.
If the project is approved by city boards, Duncan said construction could begin next January or February.
Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.