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The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is looking to divest itself of a small, undeveloped parcel of land in Grove across Pocahontas Trail from Carter’s Grove in the wake of the historic plantation’s sale to a Chicago-based businessman and preservationist.
The land, located at 8766 Pocahontas Trail, was once part of the Carter’s Grove tract. It was left undeveloped so the entrance to the plantation could be screened by trees. Now that the plantation itself has been sold to Samuel M. Mencoff, there is no need for the foundation to hold onto the land.
To move forward with a sale, the foundation has applied to remove it from what is known as an agricultural and forestal district. AFDs — which have terms of between four and 10 years — require land to remain used only for farming or forestry and are used for short- or long-term preservation. The James City County Planning Commission voted 6-0 Wednesday to endorse the request to remove the 1.56-acre parcel from a larger AFD.
That AFD contains the 317.7 acres of Carter’s Grove plantation. The AFD for Carter’s Grove and the parcel in question expired in September, and the foundation applied to have it renewed for both parcels as having the AFD in place was considered prudent for a potential sale of the property, which was on the market at the time, according to Keith Johnson, Colonial Williamsburg’s director of property management.
Johnson went before the commission Wednesday to make his case for removing the land from the AFD.
“I believe the best use of the property would be for a commercial use,” he said. “It is zoned limited business. Certainly a general merchandise store, a pharmacy, a doctor’s clinic, these are services that are not currently or largely in the Grove area and I think this property would certainly be available for someone to build something like that.”
Commissioner George Drummond, who represents the Grove area on the commission, agreed with Johnson’s point about bringing another business to the land.
“I don’t know what other purpose it could serve other than being a commercial district or residential,” he said. “As far as an AFD, I just don’t see it due to the lack of acreage.”
The James City County Planning Division, which analyzes requests to withdraw from AFDs, recommended against allowing the land to leave. It cites a board policy to discourage the withdrawal of properties from active AFDs.
A few criteria exist for whether a property can be removed from an AFD. A change of circumstances — which has typically been interpreted as the death of a property owner — counts, as does a request that serves a public purpose rather than the interest of the property owner. It can also not damage or disrupt the existing district.
The division found that no damage to the district would result from a change, a point Wright echoed during his remarks. Commissioner Rich Krapf (Powhatan) abstained from the vote because of his employment with Colonial Williamsburg.
The proposal will next go before the Board of Supervisors for approval in May.