Friday, March 1, 2024

City planning commission to discuss building heights in July

The City of Williamsburg Planning Commission will discuss whether it wants to relax the city’s traditional building height restrictions in the Quarterpath development during its July work session.

The city code restricts most building heights to 35 feet above grade, with a few exceptions permitted to reach 45 feet. And an even smaller group of exceptions, such as a hospital, are allowed to reach heights up to 60 feet.

The apartments at Aura at Quarterpath are as tall as four stories. (Staff photo by Kirsten Petersen)
The apartments at Aura at Quarterpath are four stories tall. (Staff photo by Kirsten Petersen)

Most buildings in Williamsburg do not exceed four stories. But Thomas Gillman, chairman of the city’s Economic Development Authority (EDA), recently said he could see the potential for Class A office buildings to stand taller in Quarterpath, a development off Route 199 that features Riverside Doctors’ Hospital, Harris Teeter and Waypoint Seafood & Grill.

“As the EDA, when we put on our economic development hat, we shouldn’t be so restrictive,” Gillman said. “I think (Quarterpath is) away from Colonial Williamsburg, away from the College (of William & Mary). This should be an area where we relax the height restrictions to attract long-term care or elderly care or whatever it may be, Class A office buildings.”

Quarterpath has room to grow, with several parcels undeveloped. Nine acres were purchased last May to be developed by S.L. Nusbaum Real Estate, which also owns the Quarterpath Crossing shopping center.

In the near term, EDA member Robby Willey said the goal at Quarterpath is to promote existing businesses and attract new residential and commercial entities to bolster the current offerings.

Easing restrictions could support development

The long-term goal is to create a “unique mix” of residential and commercial establishments that would allow Quarterpath to stand apart from the New Town or High Street shopping centers, Willey said.

Gillman suggested that loosening height restrictions on buildings at Quarterpath would make that goal more easily attainable. “If the (height) allowance is there, I think you may catch more flies,” he said.

Gillman originally asked about expanding the height allowance to 10 stories. But during a discussion on May 11, the EDA agreed on six stories as a potential maximum height.

Last week, Elaine McBeth, the Planning Commission’s 2nd vice chairwoman, introduced the idea of loosening the height restrictions at Quarterpath, and the commission agreed to discuss the matter in July. McBeth is the Planning Commission’s liaison to the EDA.

In an interview with WYDaily, Planning Commission Chairman Demetrios Florakis said that if height restrictions are loosened anywhere, it should be in the Quarterpath development, not in the Richmond Road corridor.

“Richmond Road is one of the primary entrance corridors to the city and Colonial Williamsburg, and I think four stories is sufficient along that corridor,” Florakis said. “I’d hate to see larger buildings in that area. Quarterpath is more removed and really not visible from Route 60 or Route 199.”

City officials open to discussion

Before making a decision, Florakis said city officials need to investigate any changes public safety agencies might have to make to accommodate taller buildings.

“We need to make sure our fire department is equipped to handle taller buildings. I don’t know how much reach our ladder trucks have,” Florakis said. “There’s a lot more that goes into it than saying, ‘Hey, we want to loosen the restrictions.’ ”

Sarah Stafford, the Planning Commission’s 1st vice chairwoman, and Commissioner Jeffrey Klee agree that the idea warrants discussion.

“I will probably want to see some architectural renderings with or without restrictions,” Stafford said. “I’m definitely open to thinking about it.”

Klee said the commission should proceed cautiously and consider the potential consequences for the city and the region.

“I see the benefits of density, but I also see the benefit to not having a lot of buildings above the tree line,” Klee said. “That’s an asset we shouldn’t lose without really, really careful thought.”

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