Sunday, June 16, 2024

Council Unanimously Approves Higher Density Downtown

A city aerial picture shows the area around the Blayton Building that will be rezoned. (City Map)

An 11th-hour protest from residents didn’t sway City Council  on Thursday from approving eight ordinance changes aiming to increase density.

Residents of the Crispus Attucks neighborhood on Harriet Tubman Drive registered a protest with the city, which is allowed by a provision in the city’s charter. The residents sought to have a proposed change to rezone the Blayton Building removed from consideration.

The Blayton Building will be rezoned from Downtown Residential District and B-1 Downtown Business District to LB-1 Limited Business Downtown District and RS-2 Single-Family Dwelling District. Several residents spoke against the business designation, saying they wouldn’t want new businesses in their backyards.

Although city staff hadn’t decided if the protest was in accordance with the provision, council agreed to treat the petition as a protest for its voting purposes. City Attorney Christina Shelton said the protest provision had been used maybe one or two other times in the past.

A successful protest in Williamsburg triggers a requirement that four out of five members of council must agree for a vote on rezoning to pass. In this case, council was unanimous, and all of the eight proposed ordinance changes passed (see the full list at the bottom).

The ordinance revisions were the first in a series the city needs to approve in order to fully implement the Comprehensive Plan adopted in December 2012. The Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the downtown area ordinance revisions.

In downtown mixed-use developments, up to 14 dwelling units will be allowed per net acre without a special-use permit, but there is no stated maximum density. On residential lots, up to eight dwelling units will be allowed per net acre by-right, but again, the density could increase with a special-use permit and there is no maximum.

Increased density concerned residents of Counselor’s Way, a neighborhood near the intersection of South Boundary Street and Henry Street. Fourteen acres nearby were proposed to be rezoned from Limited Business Residential to Limited Business Downtown, and the base residential density would be raised to 14 dwelling units per acre, with higher density allowed by special use permit.

Counselor’s Way residents feared the revised ordinance would encourage development of rental units serving the student population at The College of William & Mary. Jim Spence, a professor at the college, said the proposal was not fair to homeowners, whose home values he feared would be negatively affected.

Donna Coggins, also of Counselor’s Way, said she’s heard the higher density would allow developers to build affordable housing appealing to young professionals. “I do not believe that providing greater density housing in that area will bring them here if there are no jobs,” she said. “I do believe it will allow student housing to be built.”

Councilman Scott Foster, a law student at the college, disputed both residents’ suggestions. His peers are already in the area, but unable to find affordable homes within walking distance of downtown. Instead, many live outside the city. “Let the ones who are already here immigrate in,” he said.

Foster did not share their concerns about rental units, either. “I myself am a renter,” he said, adding that renting does not necessarily disconnect residents from caring about the community.

Crispus Attucks residents were fighting to save a field between their neighborhood and the Blayton Building from future development. Terence Wehle, who coordinated the petition effort, said a change in zoning will “destroy over time not only treasured city greenspace but goodwill, as well.”

Any development proposals for the plot would still have to get through the city approval process to guarantee the construction would be consistent in scale and character with the neighborhood. Wehle took no comfort in that guarantee. He pointed to the now-vacant, 25,000-square-foot Health Evaluation building at the corner of Henry Street and Lafayette Street as an example of a building he wouldn’t consider “consistent in scale and character.”

He also reminded the council members they had supported a redevelopment plan to expand the Blayton Building to house more senior citizens, and preserve the greenspace as a park. The city was unable to secure grant funding for the project, however.

Several speakers advocated for the changes, however, including students and long-time residents. David Kranbeuhl, also a professor, said the city needs more young people to strengthen the balance. Outgoing Student Assembly President Curt Mills called the Comprehensive Plan a “sterling success” and “an incredibly positive statement about us being one community here in Williamsburg.”

Before voting to approve the changes, Vice Mayor Paul Freiling said the city still has restrictions on height and setbacks; therefore, buildings will still have to meet the existing city standards, but can be subdivided into more dwellings. Homes downtown are too pricey “because of the demand,” he said.

“If we can find ways to make it more affordable for young professionals, I believe more of them are going to choose to move into the downtown area,” he said. Freiling went on to say the changes are “creating an environment where we can open the door to creativity.”

The proposed changes include:

  • Revise the residential density for the B-1 Downtown Business District and the LB-1 Limited Business Downtown District by establishing a base density of 14 dwelling units per net acre and allowing increased density with a special use permit approved by City Council.

  • Revise the residential density for the RDT Downtown Residential District by establishing a base density of 8 dwelling units per net acre and allowing increased density with a special use permit approved by City Council.

  • Create a new definition for “Senior housing” and add provisions to the LB-1 Downtown Residential District allowing senior housing with a reduced parking requirement with a special use permit approved by City Council.

  • Expand the Downtown Parking District south along the west side of South Henry Street from Ireland Street to South Boundary Street, and to include the Blayton Building at 613 Scotland Street. The Downtown Parking District does not require off-street parking for commercial and office uses.

  • Rezone 14 acres on South Henry Street between Ireland Street and South Boundary Street from LB-3 Limited Business Residential District to LB-1 Limited Business Downtown District. The LB-1 District allows retail and restaurant uses in addition to residential and office uses. The base residential density is 14 dwelling units per net acre, and increased density is allowed with a special use permit approved by City Council.

  • Rezone the duplex dwelling at 319 South Boundary Street from LB-3 Limited Business Residential District to RM-2 Multifamily Dwelling District.

  • Rezone the Blayton Building at 613 Scotland Street from RDT Downtown Residential District and B-1 Downtown Business District to LB-1 Limited Business Downtown District and RS-2 Single-Family Dwelling District.

  • Rezone 218 and 220 North Boundary Street (just north of the Imperial Building) from LB-1 Limited Business Downtown District to B-1 Downtown Business District.

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