Monday, April 15, 2024

Restrictions aim to preserve downtown parking, but CW could still remove spots in P3 — only with City Council’s blessing

Overhead of the P3 lot as currently constructed. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

When the plans crossed city meeting agendas proposing turning a Merchants Square-area parking lot into an open green space for lounging, playing and hosting events, there were some concerns.

First, there was the giant 12-foot-wide television screen hauled into the square behind a pickup. Then, there was the 40-space reduction in parking. As a result, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation withdrew the application for Goodwin Square.

Parking in downtown Williamsburg has been a topic of public concern for decades — it’s been the subject of two parking studies, multiple ordinances, new hires and technology updates.

In a push to keep public parking available, the city even leases multiple parking lots owned by Colonial Williamsburg to ensure they stay open to the public. The city also has an ordinance prohibiting private owners from removing parking spots in parts of downtown, City Manager Andrew Trivette said.

“Colonial Williamsburg, without the leases, would be able to restrict parking in any way they like,” Trivette said, adding that the leases are still subject to termination at any time for any reason.

Even with measures from the city in place to preserve existing parking, it’s still possible to remove spaces, but only with permission from City Council.

And the proposal for a pedestrian plaza has been brought back, meaning a public plaza like Goodwin Square could come to fruition — if City Council allows it.

Closely linked

The relationship between City Council and Colonial Williamsburg for public parking dates back decades.

P3 is one of four parking lots in Colonial Williamsburg leased by the city for public parking purposes. The leases were executed in 1962 and amended in 1966, and cost the city $1 every year for all lots, city spokeswoman Lee Ann Hartmann said.

The leased lots include P2, P3, P4 and P5.

Under the lease, Colonial Williamsburg is required to work with the city if public parking in those lots will be impacted, Trivette said. 

“It’s not uncommon to have private parking in downtowns all over the country,” Trivette said, adding the city is fortunate to have the leases to make parking lots public. “Private parking outnumbers the public parking in many situations.”

The lease helps secure public parking — and allows city police parking officers to enforce parking regulations in the lots — but runs year-to-year and can be terminated by either the city or Colonial Williamsburg at any time.

Trivette said he believes the lease does require some notice for termination.

As for the $1 lease payment, Trivette is unsure how that number was chosen.

“You’d have to ask City Council back in 1962,” Trivette said, adding that a dollar is a “customary” number to choose as a consideration when two parties exchange rights. It’s unclear whether that was the reason for the lease price for the Colonial Williamsburg lots.

Removal of parking

Over the decades, various City Councils have also passed ordinances restricting changes to parking downtown, which impact Colonial Williamsburg lots such as P3 and other property owners in the area.

In 2001, City Council passed an ordinance that required all existing parking spots not be reduced from those existing on Oct. 11, 2001 unless they were replaced in another parking lot under the control of the same owner. 

Parking provisions under the zoning ordinance were updated again in 2013 and then once more last year.

The 2018 changes were “housekeeping” to clarify ordinance language and ensure the ordinance addressing downtown parking was perfectly clear about what it would take to reduce parking spaces in downtown.

The change was prompted by the Colonial Williamsburg application to build Goodwin Square, Trivette said.

“Staff felt it was ambiguous — you could read it either way: Yes, you can reduce parking, or no you can never reduce it,” Trivette said. “We wanted council to make it abundantly clear.”

The restriction can be bypassed and parking can be removed if City Council approves a special use permit.

The future of P3 and the public plaza

The Williamsburg Planning Commission is set to have a public hearing on three separate issues involving the public plaza proposal on Aug. 14.

The first issue is an amendment to the current B1 zoning district to include a definition of “private plaza” as a use allowed in the zoning district. Unless a use is specifically listed for the district, it is not allowed.

Adding definitions or adding uses is a regular procedure and is common in other situations, Trivette added.

The second issue concerns a special use permit to create the private plaza.

The third is the special use permit that would allow Colonial Williamsburg to reduce the parking, which is required under the changes passed by City Council last year.

With all three of those requests approved, the plaza would be able to come to fruition.

Trivette said the previous Goodwin Square proposal never reached the point of needing to break the lease with the city, although the lease would need to be broken for the project to take shape. 

“If any one of those three [public hearing items] fails, it would disrupt their plan,” Trivette said.

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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