Editor’s note: This is the third installment in a three-part series covering growth in the upper part of James City County.
When Linda Rice and her family look up at night in James City County, they can see a sky full of stars.
But that’s a quality she’s worried might change as the upper county continues to grow and populate the rural landscape.
“There needs to be a balance between all this development and trying to preserve some of these rural characteristics,” Rice said. “Since my husband and I moved here 40 years ago, this place has become meaningful because it’s not only rich in history but it has a wonderful landscape.”
Rice, the president of the Friends of Forge Road, is just one of the residents in the area who has seen the cornfields turn to town homes in the past 20 years. While the development brings in more people and growth each year, it also causes concern for changing some of the qualities that make the area unique, like the horse farms and county parks, she said.
Rice founded the group Friends of Forge Road in Toano which aims to guide growth and recognize the history of upper James City County. She said coming from a metropolitan area near New York City to Williamsburg as a student at William & Mary made her appreciate how lovely the area was.
But since then, the area has changed in many ways, such as new housing developments, and she noticed it’s progressing faster over the past two decades.
With growth comes changes to infrastructure, meaning more jobs, more roads and more buildings.
Sue Sadler, the chairwoman for the Stonehouse district of the Board of Directors, said development in the county can be tricky because it’s a matter of matching resources with the pace of growth.
“We have to be able to provide infrastructure to support folks coming in,” Sadler said. “So part of the balancing is not only to balance with the amount of things being built in the Stonehouse district, but maintaining that rural character versus where perhaps is the best place to put a new development.”
Sadler said the county has been looking at the primary service areas, which are areas that have public water, sewer and high levels of other services, and are expected to have those services over the next 20 years, said the James City County website. These areas are used as a guide for adding growth in the right areas.
But with those areas come the people that live on the land and have called it their home for decades, Rice said. Many of the residents take pride in the history of the upper county, such as Jack Wray who is working to build a historic district in Toano, Rice said.
“I would argue we are equally important to this area as Colonial Williamsburg,” she said. “We were built off a profitable farming community and we’re a rich historic area for the Revolutionary War. It gives people a sense of what this area looked like, how this character was developed, and that’s important.”
The growth in the county will keep coming, Rice said. But what matters now is how it will be balanced with the characteristics of a already existing rural community.
“When developers come in and want to develop, my question is where do they live?” Rice said. “I bet it’s not next to a grocery store or near traffic. It’s a place where their kids can ride bikes and you (can) look at the stars at night.”