Eco Discovery Park to Close by May Unless James City County Agrees to Land Sale

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Eco Discovery Park
Eco Discovery Park

Eco Discovery Park will close for good by the end of April unless the James City County Board of Supervisors agrees to sell the park the county-owned land where it is based.

Park President Steve Rose announced in a park newsletter Tuesday he has given the county a required 30-day notice to terminate the park’s lease for the Jamestown Yacht Basin, a nearly 37-acre site near Jamestown Settlement.

“We are committed to this unique piece of property.  We are now a family of dedicated supporters, thousands strong, excited about the potential future of Eco Discovery Park,” he wrote. “However, committing more volunteer time, raising the needed funds for improvements, and creating new partnerships do not make sense without ownership of the property.”

Rose also said in the email that “major steps” need to be taken to ensure the marina’s future.  He described the marina’s infrastructure as “failing.”

James City County Administrator Bryan Hill confirmed Wednesday the county has received three offers for the property, including Rose’s. He declined to discuss any of the offers, which will be made public in the days ahead of an April 14 James City County Board of Supervisors meeting when they will be considered.

The park began a lease for the yacht basin in 2012. As the lease was drawing to a close last year, the county entertained offers for the property, and the park was the only entity to submit a bid. Its $250,000 offer fell short of the $3.54 million county tax assessors say the land is worth. The park has since increased its offer to $500,000.

In January, Rose said he was working with the Williamsburg Land Conservancy to develop a plan to buy the land and protect it from development. He said in an email to WYDaily that the $500,000 offer is not connected to that work but that the park will continue to work with the conservancy in the future to protect the site.

He said there are currently no plans to relocate the park if a deal cannot be reached with the county.

Rose said he has two reports from real estate professionals, with one valuing the land at $350,000 to $500,000 and the other at $620,000 if it is continued to be used as it currently is with a community marina and “other low impact uses.”

Shortly after acquiring the yacht basin in 2006, the county commissioned engineering firm Vanasse Hangen Brustlin to study the land and how it could be used. That firm produced a plan that calls for a complete overhaul of the property with a rebuilt marina, condos, retail and a park.

Rose said his reports show the land’s value climbing to between $1.7 million and $1.96 million if the plans called for by the firm were to be realized.

County Administrator Bryan Hill said in February that after the county rejected the $250,000 offer, it turned to a real estate broker to find a new buyer for the land. The park was granted an extension of its lease, which was set to expire at the end of 2014.

The county purchased the yacht basin along with nearby land along the James River in 2006 for $12.5 million, though grant funding accounted for $2.9 million of that sum. Some of the land was later sold to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and the Virginia Department of Transportation for $4.5 million.

It has since rented the land out, first to a company called Master Marine and then to Eco Discovery Park. Both have operated the marina during their respective leases.

In his email to supporters, Rose urged them to attend the April 14 meeting and voice support for the park. The yacht basin features a marina with 85 boat slips and a launch ramp along with several buildings and the park, where guests can rent bicycles, kayaks and other outdoor recreational equipment.

Rose wrote that the park knows the property better than any of its other suitors and that there is a plan in place for a waterfront café with an outdoor deck.

“This would take months, if not years, for others to achieve,” he wrote.

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