Sunday, April 14, 2024

How high? Well, JCC supes just approved the tallest-ever height waiver for Busch Gardens

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

A new attraction up to 355 feet tall at Busch Gardens Williamsburg has cleared another hurdle.

The James City County Board of Supervisors gathered for its regular monthly meeting Tuesday, voting unanimously to approve a 355-foot height waiver application from the Seaworld-owned park.

“We have a gold mine in Busch Gardens right now working with us,” Supervisor Michael Hipple said during the meeting, then directing his attention to park officials sitting in the audience. “We want to partner with Busch Gardens and help you grow and help you move forward.”

Discussions both during public comment and from supervisors emphasized the importance of Busch Gardens and its visitors to the local economy — as a tax contributor, community partner and tourist attraction.

“We need to continue to support private investment,” said Neal Chalkley, president of the Williamsburg Hotel and Motel Association, during the public comment period.

To move forward with the project, Busch Gardens will need to submit site plans before the attraction begins construction to ensure it complies with provisions from the Board of Supervisors, Planning Director Paul Holt said.

Kingsmill concerns

The proposed attraction, which Busch Gardens officials have said will be spire-like and of “lattice-type” construction, gained opposition at the May 14 Board of Supervisors meeting because of the noise it could generate.

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

Some Kingsmill homeowners were concerned the noise caused by human screams could be disruptive while they are at their homes.

Two Kingsmill residents returned to speak during the public comment period Tuesday, at least one of them saying they didn’t believe Busch Gardens was being a “good neighbor” by constructing something so tall.

Suzy Cheely, Busch Gardens’ senior leader of design and engineering, said a professional sound engineer attended a meeting with Kingsmill residents after the Board of Supervisors met in May, and confirmed the sound impact to that area would be less than other rides such as the Mach Tower.

Supervisor John McGlennon, who represents the Roberts District containing Busch Gardens, said about 50 people attended the informational meeting at Kingsmill.

The attraction also gained some opposition because of the height: it has the tallest height waiver the county has ever approved.

In its first proposed placement in the park would have been visible from Route 60 and Interstate 64 in the Grove interchange overpass and the Williamsburg Country Club, according to agenda documents.

Park officials moved the attraction’s proposed location slightly downhill from the original spot, however, lessening its visual impact. In that location, it would not be seen from the Colonial Parkway or the River Bluffs area of Kingsmill.

It would be visible mostly in areas where other attractions are already visible, including Jamestown Island, planning staff confirmed Tuesday.

McGlennon said he left the community meeting with the impression the attraction would be somewhat shorter than the total height waiver requested, and roughly 10 feet wide at the peak.

Staying competitive

At the May 14 meeting, Busch Gardens Williamsburg President Kevin Lembke said opening new rides and attractions is an important piece of the park’s business model — and part of the recipe for success.

Lembke said engineers and the park has worked to strike a compromise between what’s good for the park and what’s good for its neighbors.

“Ultimately, we’ve met the best compromise,” Lembke said. “I can’t stress enough how diligent the team has been in that response.”

Cheely spoke again at the Tuesday meeting, emphasizing the importance of adding new attractions.

“Busch Gardens contributes substantially to the community and the commonwealth,” she said.

McGlennon said his conversations with Busch Gardens officials indicate the park is going to take an aggressive approach to competing with other parks in upcoming years, including potentially adding new rides annually.

In recent years, the park has requested several height waivers, including one for the recently-opened Finnegan’s Flyer and another for a 315-foot-tall ride called Madrid.

The Madrid project will not come to fruition, and was replaced with another 180-foot-tall coaster currently called Project 2019.

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

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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