Planning Commission Recommends Plan for Downtown School Campus

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Williamsburg Montessori School hopes to open a consolidated campus at 800 Richmond Rd., the former location of Suter's Handcrafted Furniture. (Ian Brickey/WYDaily)
Williamsburg Montessori School hopes to open a consolidated campus at 800 Richmond Rd., the former location of Suter’s Handcrafted Furniture. (Ian Brickey/WYDaily)

The Williamsburg Arts District is one step closer to adding another designation — school zone.

The Williamsburg Planning Commission voted to recommend the City Council approve a request by the Williamsburg Montessori School to open at satellite campus at 800 Richmond Road at its meeting Wednesday.

The location was previously occupied by Suter’s Handcrafted Furniture.

The school plans to consolidate two other city-based branch campuses, one on Penniman Road and one on Scotland Street, into one school for fourth- through eighth-grade students.

School leaders have negotiated a three-year lease with the building’s owner, CANC LLC, but need to get a special use permit to transform the site into a school building. A special use permit allows for uses on a property not specifically approved by the zoning code.

The building is currently zoned LB-2, which is meant to be a mixture of office, commercial and residential properties.

In a memo to the Planning Commission, city staff endorsed the project with several caveats, largely related to traffic, and a 50-student limit on the school’s size.

The school has said it will restructure its drop-off and pick-up times to limit the effects on traffic along Richmond Road.

The commissioners were unanimous in their support of the plan.

“I’m glad that the Williamsburg Montessori School wants to stay in the city,” Planning Commission Chairman Demetrios Florakis said. “I think attracting many families to the Arts District could potentially give us some additional shoppers, more pedestrian traffic and more things we want in the midtown area.”

While the planners supported the city-backed contingencies, they were hesitant to mandate the 50-student limit.

“Going back to when the Montessori school became residents of downtown of the Scotland Street house several years ago … we had a lot of concerns about drop off that were not proven to be the concerns we thought they might be,” Planner Elaine McBeth said. “I think we can work on how to make it work.”

In its recommendation to the City Council, the Planning Commission suggested keeping the limit for the 2015-16 school year, but allowing expansion if the school could demonstrate it would not negatively affect traffic on Richmond Road.

With the Planning Commission’s decision, the request now moves onto the City Council for consideration. The council will likely vote on the request at its July meeting.

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