Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Colonial Williamsburg clears a hurdle for Goodwin Square project — with two more to go

Artist's rendering of what the P3 lot in Merchants Square after it is transformed into a pedestrian marketplace. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)
Artist’s rendering of what the P3 lot in Merchants Square after it is transformed into a pedestrian marketplace. (WYDaily/ Courtesy Colonial Williamsburg Foundation)

Two of three requests by Colonial Williamsburg to City Council have been officially moved for a vote at next month’s council meeting — meanwhile, one Goodwin Square-related resolution was approved.

City Council approved an application by Colonial Williamsburg Thursday to allow the creation of private plazas — green spaces — in the B1 zoning district in downtown Williamsburg.

While the approval of the change to the zoning text affects properties other than ones owned by Colonial Williamsburg, the application was made by the foundation as part of the Goodwin Square project.

The addition of private plaza as an allowed use in the B1 district is one of three items needed for Goodwin Square to receive complete legislative approval. The project proposes removing most of the P3 parking lot in favor of a green space with a splash pad, seating and a temporary video wall.

“If this is approved today, it could still be shot down next month,” Councilman Benming Zhang said. “I understand there’s a lot of controversial aspects of Goodwin Square… we are just considering a textual amendment.”

City Council often votes unanimously on certain issues, but was split on the private plaza vote. Council members Zhang, Doug Pons and Barbara Ramsey voted in favor of allowing private plazas in B1, while Ted Maslin voted against it in favor of tabling the issue until October.

Mayor Paul Freiling recused himself from the discussion and vote on the issue because he is an employee of Colonial Williamsburg to avoid the “inescapable perception of a conflict of interest,” although the city attorney confirmed he could vote if he wished because the application impacts more than three business owners.

Now, the two remaining Goodwin Square issues will appear on City Council’s Oct. 10 meeting agenda.

The two remaining issues concern special use permits: One application asks for a permit to remove 40 parking spaces from the P3 lot and leave only eight handicap spots, while the second application asks for a permit to build the private plaza.

Ahead of the vote, Zhang — and some other council members — suggested the textual amendment could be considered outside of the Goodwin Square application because it affects multiple properties and owners in the B1 district.

The amendment also means any entity interested in building a private plaza would still need to go through the Planning Commission and City Council for a special use permit.

“I do support it,” Pons said of the zoning amendment. “I look forward to holding Colonial Williamsburg and the community accountable for what happens with P3 parking.”

Several speakers during public comment asked City Council to table the vote on the zoning text amendment Thursday to couple it with the other applications.

“I agree with a lot of the speakers that say don’t rush into it,” Maslin said ahead of the vote.

Goodwin Square has received both support and opposition since it was first proposed by Colonial Williamsburg last fall.

Many of those in opposition are local business customers and owners who believe the loss of P3 parking would detract access to those businesses.

“If we pass this at this point we’re just making it easier for things to move ahead without control,” said Lisa Akdogan, an owner of the Precious Gem. “Converting this to a plaza will be a negative to business in Merchants Square… a negative for taxpayer money coming into Williamsburg.”

On Aug. 23, the Tourism Development Grant Review Committee recommended Goodwin Square be funded using tourism tax dollars generated by Senate Bill 942. The project would receive $2 million over a period of five years, starting with fiscal year 2020.

City Council still needs to approve the funding, which could happen next month.

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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