The recent failed effort to rezone a portion of the city’s Colonial Williamsburg Area zoning district to accommodate a single residence (Gazette, May 11) brought out several significant points.
Public opposition demonstrated the importance our community attaches to the look and feel of the historic district. The rezoning controversy also indicated that Colonial Williamsburg has no comprehensive plan for the future of the property it owns surrounding the heart of the restored area.
Discussion at City Council opened up consideration of the entire block on which the parcel is located. Instead of piecemeal rezoning, there is a way to both preserve the look and feel of the restored area and bring new residents close to Merchants Square. The latter is critical to efforts to revitalize the center of our town – an area once filled with homes and families, both black and white.
The restoration, together with urban renewal efforts in the 1970s, changed all that as large numbers of residents, particularly African Americans, were displaced. With a focus on downtown vitality, now is the time to begin a new restoration focused on providing diverse housing opportunities in the city’s center.
Let’s look more closely at the block bordered by Nassau, Scotland, Henry and Prince George streets.
To maintain the aura of the restored area, 100-200 feet of the block along Nassau Street could be preserved as open green space backed by a green screen of trees and bushes. The result for anyone looking from the restored area across Nassau Street would be a continuation into a natural wooded backdrop looking like the edge of a forest. The 18th-century Timson House at the corner of Nassau and Prince George streets would be part of that vista.
The remaining uninhabited portion of the block could then be rezoned for housing. Something along the lines of the Kinnaman Townhouses or Capital Landing Green could be developed with a mixture of housing to meet the needs of people at a variety of income levels.
In doing this, Colonial Williamsburg could also begin a reconciliation with descendants of the African American families displaced during the restoration by offering them units with deep discounts.
Such a proposal would require a number of actions:
» Colonial Williamsburg and the city would have to cooperate on a rezoning plan.
» The city would have to specify that any new housing development over a given size must contain a certain percentage devoted to workforce/affordable units (inclusionary zoning).
» Colonial Williamsburg would have to recognize the impact of the restoration on the residents in the area, particularly the African American community.
» The design would have to create a new neighborhood in the center of the city compatible with its surroundings.
The devil is always in the details. But with good will on all sides, execution of such a plan is possible. In doing so, Colonial Williamsburg and the city would create a model for other properties they own in downtown Williamsburg.