Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Vote on Busch Gardens height waiver delayed after noise, sound concerns from Kingsmill residents

(WYDaily/Courtesy Busch Gardens)
(WYDaily/Courtesy Busch Gardens)

The James City County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday delayed a decision on a 355-foot height waiver for a new attraction at Busch Gardens after several Kingsmill homeowners voiced concern about potential noise and sight impacts.

The board met for their regular monthly meeting at the James City County Government Center, voting 4-1 to delay a vote on the height waiver until their June 11 meeting.

Four people spoke during the public hearing segment of the meeting, most citing concerns and asking for additional time for more research and discussion on the project.

“Give Kingsmill residents time to understand the proposal,” said  John Hudson, vice president of the Kingsmill Homeowners Association Board of Directors.

The delay will also give Busch Gardens time to conduct more sound tests if they choose.

Busch Gardens requested the 355-foot height waiver for an attraction of a “lattice-type” construction, according to planning department documents.

The attraction will be “quite slender” and can be painted any color the county requests to lessen its visual impact, said Suzy Cheely, senior leader of design and engineering at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.

Cheely declined to give details identifying the type of attraction the project would be.

Park President Kevin Lembke said delaying the vote on the height waiver is “not ideal, but it’s not impossible.”

Busch Gardens’ business model needs to increase development to remain competitive, he said.

“This is a very critical piece of decisions going forward for our park,” Lembke said.

If built up to the full 355 feet, the ride could be visible from areas of the county where other rides currently are not, including parts of Kingsmill.

“I suggest that Busch Gardens should seek other ways to innovate without building taller and taller structures,” Kingsmill Community Services Association Board of Directors member Andrew Lloyd-Williams said.

Cheely said the ride’s proposed location has been moved downhill near Verbolten’s broken bridge, so it will be less visible than originally thought.

Kevin Lembke, president of Busch Gardens (WYDaily/Courtesy of Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA)

The structure would also be visible from areas where other rides can be seen now, including from Route 60 and Interstate 64 in the Grove interchange overpass and the Williamsburg Country Club, according to the documents.

It would not be seen from the Colonial Parkway or the River Bluffs area of Kingsmill.

Since 2017, supervisors have approved other height waivers for rides proposed by Busch Gardens.

All were granted, allowing the amusement park to build Finnegan’s Flyer, the Project 2019 coaster formerly known as “Madrid” and now the unknown attraction.

The original Madrid project received a height waiver for 315 feet, but Cheely gave previously unreleased information at the meeting, stating that project as originally planned will not come to fruition.

Because the height waiver was already approved, another project is taking Madrid’s place. That project will be about 180 feet at its tallest, Cheely added.

“It’s a lot less than it would’ve been if the Madrid project would’ve gone through,” she said.

Several supervisors shared the sentiment that Busch Gardens is a strong community partner and continuing to improve the park to attract more visitors would benefit the area.

“Busch Gardens is a tremendous driver for tourism,” Supervisor Sue Sadler said.

Planning Director Paul Holt confirmed during the meeting that Busch Gardens is the county’s largest employer. Williamsburg-James City County Schools are the second-largest.

Seaworld — including Busch Gardens and Water Country USA — are the second-largest property taxpayer in the county, Holt said.

The Busch Gardens communications team did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon on the nature of the project or application.

Residents interested in speaking publicly about the project can do so during the public comment period at the June 11 Board of Supervisors meeting. There will not be another public hearing on the matter.

In other business

The James City County Board of Supervisors also addressed some other issues at the meeting, including setting a new rate for recycling.

The board approved an ordinance setting the recycling rate at $7 per household per month, or $84 per year.

The fee will go into effect Oct. 1.

Many localities are upping their recycling rates this year because of the increased cost for recycling after China, previously the largest recycling manufacturer for the nation, stopped accepting America’s plastic.

The county also needed to renegotiate a contract with the Virginia Peninsula Public Service Authority, which resulted in a larger contract price through a new recycling company, Tidewater Fibre Corp.

Residents in York County will also see a spike in their trash and recycling bill by $7 each month starting in May.

In Williamsburg, the cost to recycle will not change for customers, but the city will see a higher contract price: from $55,000 per year with the old contract to $205,000 annually under the new one.

Supervisors also approved the fiscal year 2020 budget.

The real estate tax rate will remain at 84 cents per $100 of assessed property value. That rate has not increased since fiscal year 2016.

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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