City resident Julius Dell’s plan to build a home on a patch of land in the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area hit a speed bump when Planning Commission voted Wednesday to deny requests to rezone the lot for residential use.
Five members voted against the rezoning requests. As a Colonial Williamsburg employee, Jeff Klee, Planning Commission’s first vice-chair, recused himself from the discussion and vote. Greg Granger voted in favor of the rezoning.
City Council will consider the requests at its next regular meeting on May 9.
Dell is under contract to purchase a 0.2-acre lot at 320 Scotland St. from Colonial Williamsburg with plans to build a single-family, colonial-style home on the land, he said. Carolyn Murphy, the city’s planning and codes compliance director, said the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s Board of Trustees considers the lot to be surplus property and voted to sell the land.
On behalf of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Dell was at the meeting to request the city re-subdivide two lots in the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area located at 316 and 320 Scotland St. and amend its comprehensive plan to rezone the lot at 320 Scotland St. to a single-family residential district.
If approved, the pasture at 316 Scotland St. would be retained by the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, and it would also keep its CW Historic Area designation. The two grassy lots are located across the street from Matthew Whaley Elementary School.
“What you’re going to see as you come down Scotland Street is going to look very much like an actual historic home, although it's going to be new,” Dell said. “My wife and I both much prefer older homes, and we are going to make this house as old-looking as we can while also making it convenient for us to age in place and hopefully be able to stay there.”
Murphy said she doesn’t know of any other parts of the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area that have ever been rezoned for residential use, a question asked by Andrew Edwards, the board’s second vice-chair.
Richard Lampert, who lives in the same neighborhood as the Dells’ proposed home, said he would welcome the addition of the new home if approved by the city, but warned there should be no further development allowed to take place at the pasture.
“Speaking for myself, the allowance for the Dells to build their house on that particular lot and therefore expand the residential streetscape would certainly enhance the residential quality,” Lampert said.“I will say that if Colonial Williamsburg is intent on selling the property, then you’re not going to find better stewards of the neighborhood and Colonial Williamsburg than the Dells.”
However, city resident Susan Buck warned that the proposed house would be visible from the Robert Carter House in Colonial Williamsburg, which would harm the sense of immersion in the Historic Area.
“To reduce the bounds now and to allow private construction clearly visible in perpetuity from the Carter House, the Palace path and Nassau Street would be an unfortunate and senseless choice,” she said. “The Dells may be conscientious, excellent stewards, but beyond their ownership, we still don’t know what’s going to happen to this property if a house is on it.”
Most Planning Commission members agreed, saying any request to amend the city’s comprehensive plan must be considered seriously. Board member James Boswell said any proposed change to the city’s zoning ordinance should meet at least one of four criteria: public necessity, convenience, general welfare or good zoning practice.
“I don’t see that the first three of those criteria are implicated here at all, so in my mind, it becomes a question of good zoning practice,” Boswell said. “I think it would set a dangerous precedent, because it appears that all we’re doing is requesting to make a zoning change just to benefit the financial interest of one landowner, and I don’t think we should set that precedent.”
Edwards agreed, saying the change would set a dangerous precedent for future proposals to chip away at the edges of Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area.
“Selling off a portion of the Historic Area to an individual for house construction, I don’t think is a compelling reason to change the zoning from CW Historic Area to Single Family, and lacks a compelling public purpose and sets a bad precedent for further encroachments,” he said.
At the meeting, the board also unanimously approved requests from Colonial Williamsburg to allow food trucks at its Summer Breeze concert series with a special-use permit, and to continue holding Summer Breeze concerts on the lawn of the Dewitt Wallace Decorative Art Museum through 2023.
Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.