Sunday, April 14, 2024

EDA: City Should Guide Williamsburg Shopping Center Redevelopment

City of Williamsburg logoThe potential redevelopment of Midtown dominated a meeting of the Williamsburg Economic Development Authority on Wednesday.

During an update on the progress of the City of Williamsburg’s strategic plan, City Economic Development Director Michele Mixner DeWitt addressed sale of the Williamsburg Shopping Center, which the previous property owner’s lender bought for $14.1 million Tuesday.

The sale included the shopping center — which leases to Food Lion, Marshall’s and Sal’s by Victor — the vacant bank building at 171 Monticello Ave., and the Langley Federal Credit Union at 1222 Richmond Road

EDA Chairman Tom Gillman said redeveloping the shopping center, rather than maintaining the status quo, should be a priority.

“What can we do as an EDA to put together a package that will incentivize redevelopment, not incentivize a simple buying of the keys?” Gillman said. “The outcome I fear is non-redevelopment.”

The EDA drafted a resolution that recommends the city take steps to control the future of the shopping center, which City Council will consider at its meeting today.

DeWitt said one approach would be for the EDA to consider a request for proposals from consulting firms on what a redeveloped shopping center might look like, and how best to achieve sustained economic growth.

“One thing I think the EDA could do to help the city get to the incentive and what should be there is a market analysis of what’s feasible and hone in on that: is residential needed, how much commercial space is viable in the modern commercial environment,” DeWitt said. “But then also do the other side of the impact to the city in terms of how those things are mixed up.”

However, several EDA members said the potential timeline for another sale of the shopping center could limit the board’s ability to direct any redevelopment efforts. After the foreclosure auction Tuesday, John H.C. Barron, who represented the lender, said the new owners hoped to sell the property within the next few months.

“I’m worried about us going through putting together a committee to write [a request for proposals] and then we go out and evaluate RFPs and then we sign it and they’re into their Christmas and holiday season and they can’t act until next season,” Gillman said.

Other members raised the possibility of rezoning the property as a part of an incentive package for redevelopment. Vice Mayor Paul Freiling, the city council liaison to the EDA, said the effect of zoning changes on redevelopment would likely be limited.

“Anybody who wants to buy that property and redevelop it under the current zoning guidelines is free to do that, and there’s nothing we could or should do to stop it short of buying it ourselves, which, if the private sector wants to do that, the city shouldn’t be involved except to guide it in the way that is in the best interests of the citizens,” he said. “What’s going to drive a different scenario is if somebody buys the property, or is interested in buying the property and says, ‘I really like this, but,’ or, ‘I really like this, if.’ And if they really like it ‘but’ or ‘if,’ the people who owned it probably would have liked it ‘but’ or ‘if,’ so it’s just a question of whether the current zoning structure will incentivize it enough.”

EDA members ultimately discussed the importance of controlling the process of redevelopment at the shopping center. Member Bill Carr said the best way for the city to ensure control of the process to purchase the property.

“We could find out how much it generates and say is it OK and just keep it as-is for a period of time until we decide what would be the best use of the property,” he said. “Then you can bring in parties, you can bring in public, private, whatever you want.”

Freiling said it would be difficult for the city to make such a purchase in such a quick timeframe. The shopping center sold for $14.1 million at the foreclosure auction, and it’s most recent assessed value was $13,093,000.

“Without having a real plan, knowing what we would be doing with it, it’s not the kind of thing we could sit on for ten or fifteen or twenty years and wait for market forces to adjust,” he said.

The EDA drafted a resolution that did not include specific actions the city should take, but rather encouraged the city to consider immediate steps that would help guide redevelopment of that area through the private sector. In pursuit of that goal, the resolution also establishes a subcommittee tasked with providing “recommendations regarding effective mechanisms of control.”

The City Council will consider the resolution at its meeting today, scheduled for 4 p.m. in the third floor conference room of the Municipal Building at 401 Lafayette St.

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