Monday, January 30, 2023

Here’s how Williamsburg strikes a balance between history and new development

Chowning's Tavern on Duke of Gloucester Street (WYDaily/File photo)
In the City of Williamsburg, the Architectural Review Board considers modifications to existing structures and exterior designs of new builds, ensuring the design fits within city guidelines. Here, Chowning’s Tavern is shown on Duke of Gloucester Street (WYDaily/File photo)

For 13 years, Robert “Toby” Lane has helped shape Williamsburg.

From paint colors, to design of businesses’ signs, to types of siding and windows, Lane and the six other members of the Architectural Review Board are tasked with reviewing more than a hundred building applications each year.

It’s a job that involves striking a balance between preserving Williamsburg’s historic and colonial character, while also embracing change, Lane said.

“I ride around town and see buildings or a home, and I know how they started out,” Lane said.

This year, Lane and another member’s final terms are coming to a close — meaning City Council is looking for two residents to fill empty seats on the board.

“I’d love to stay on, to be honest,” said Lane, who has exceeded the 12-year, three-term limit on the ARB by one year because he was first appointed to complete the last year of a former member’s term.

The process

Twice each month, the ARB meets to review the outside visual elements of certain proposals in the city, including signage, exterior materials and colors and other modifications.

The proposals can include new construction as well as modifications to existing buildings, city Principal Planner Erin Burke said.

An application can go through the Planning Commission and ARB at the same time, although usually the ARB will review a project first, Burke said.

The ARB does not review all applications for design in the city.

The board primarily focuses on proposals in architectural preservation districts 1, 2, and 3, as well as the Corridor Protection District which includes the major arteries into the city.

Design regulations are the most stringent in Architectural Preservation District 1, which includes Colonial Williamsburg and the Historic Area.

Burke said Colonial Williamsburg often submits historical research with any proposals they make to the ARB.

When Colonial Williamsburg proposed rebuilding the front porch of the Raleigh Tavern, they provided research, site plans and more to show the porch was true to history, she added.

The Raleigh Tavern is believed to have had a porch during the late 1700s. (WYDailyi/Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)
The Raleigh Tavern is believed to have had a porch during the late 1700s. (WYDailyi/Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg)

Midtown Row

To ensure the regulations are met, the ARB is comprised of both interested residents and experts, Lane said, such as architects, engineers, history buffs, archaeologists and more.

Lane is a retired engineer who previously worked in James City County doing building code permits.

Many projects require the ARB to strike a balance between colonial history and architecture and new-build projects.

“You really want a new building to look like a new building,” Lane said. “But you also want them to fit in — you don’t want to build eyesores.”

Midtown Row is a good example of striking the balance.

Accent colors on the Midtown Row buildings were a subject of debate for multiple meetings.

Blue and red accent colors proposed by developer Broad Street were not an issue, but the ARB worked to find a compromise for a proposed two-foot-wide horizontal yellow stripe stretching from the new Marshalls to Sal’s By Victor.

The ARB eventually landed on a 10-inch-wide yellow stripe instead, Lane said.

“It’s much less of a visual impact,” Lane said. “It gives a little appeal. Personally, I think those buildings are really going to look nice.”

Getting involved

The City of Williamsburg is currently accepting applications for two seats on the ARB.

While architects and other professionals sit on the board, residents with an interest in city design and regulations are also encouraged to apply, Lane said.

“It’s nice to have the expertise, sure, but a lot of the time, a person who has a commitment to the city who wants to make it a better place to live is perfectly qualified,” he added.

City Council will review applications and appoint members to the board.

Interested in serving on the ARB? City residents can view the ARB application online.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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