Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary's impact on the city were major topics of discussion at Planning Commission’s comprehensive plan work session Wednesday.
The group reviewed draft chapters focused on the city’s major institutions and its community character. Board members stressed that the comprehensive plan should emphasize cooperation between the city and institutions such as William and Mary and Colonial Williamsburg.
First Vice Chair Jeffrey Klee suggested issues such as creating affordable housing for university and CW employees and adding more directional signage for guests as common goals the city and the two groups can strive for together.
The segment of the chapter focusing on Colonial Williamsburg includes a recommendation that the city work with CW to assess the potential for expanding the south end of Merchants Square around the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg.
Specifically, board members and city Planning Director Carolyn Murphy mentioned the P6 paid parking lot, which is bordered by Francis, South Boundary, South Henry and Ireland streets.
The lot has been a target for redevelopment since a vibrancy study commissioned by the city’s Economic Development Authority suggested adding homes there and at a horse pasture next to the Peacock Hill neighborhood, located between Scotland, Prince George and Nassau streets.
At a comprehensive plan meeting last November, planners discussed the possibility of recommending that housing be allowed around the P6 lot and at the Peacock Hill pasture. They agreed the city should retain the green space offered by the pasture, but could continue exploring the possibility of redeveloping the P6 lot.
“I think, if I remember, the commission saying that an expansion of Merchants Square is more appropriate probably in the next five years on the south side of Merchants Square at the P6 parking lot than it would be at the north side,” Murphy said.
Other recommendations included updated infrastructure — such as expanded wifi service, improved streets, more signage and better lighting — in the Historic Area and downtown, in which the city would work with CW to assess the future of its Regional Visitor Center and Palace Farms and to fill vacancies in Merchants Square, including the Goodwin Building.
Board members Greg Granger and Justin Shawler suggested the plan also recommend that Colonial Williamsburg continue holding events in Merchants Square that appeal to locals, such as the Williamsburg Farmers Market and the summer series of outdoor movie screenings on Prince George Street.
“We need to make sure that its relevance to the locals is still very much the focus of Merchants Square,” Granger said. “Things like the farmers market are tremendous at pulling the locals down there, and it would be an absolute travesty if Merchants Square had nothing but catalog stores and corporate stores.”
William and Mary
Upcoming construction projects at William and Mary mentioned in the draft chapter includes the renovation and expansion of the Muscarelle Museum and an addition to the west side of the Sadler Center.
Murphy noted that campus construction projects are exempt from city land-use regulation as it is state-owned property, but projects on land owned by non-state entities associated with the college, such as the William and Mary Real Estate Foundation, are subject to city regulation.
The draft chapter includes recommendations that the city work with the college to evaluate and implement changes to its parking system, which were suggested by a recent study, and to investigate how best to regulate possible future transportation programs such as electric scooters or bike shares. The plan also suggests the city work with William and Mary to construct sidewalks and bike paths at the campus borders.
Planning Commission will reconvene for another comprehensive plan work session on Wednesday, to review land use plans at Williamsburg-James City County Schools and Williamsburg Regional Library.
Rodrigo Arriaza, firstname.lastname@example.org, 757-790-9313, @rodrigoarriaza0