George Mason Law School

Commission tables mixed-use project

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February 19, 2010

3:03 AM

The Williamsburg Planning Commission decided at a meeting Wednesday to send the College of William and Mary’s Triangle Retail Project back to the William and Mary Real Estate Foundation for a month to work out the handful of problems holding back the project. The Triangle Project is a mixed-use housing and commercial complex intended to be built on Richmond Road.

Through the meeting, the William and Mary Real Estate Foundation hoped to create a text for the planned developmental college district, rezone an acre of land between Wawa and Williamsburg Baptist Church and approve a master parking plan.

The wording was a cause of concern for several members of the commission. One issue of concern was the use of the term ‘unrelated.’

“I wondered why the statement was that the dwelling unit occupancy would be no more than four unrelated persons,” planning commission member Sarah Stafford said. “Why isn’t it just limited to four persons? We wouldn’t want to have five students here, and two of them happen to be related. We would want these units to only have four students. ‘Unrelated’ could cause problems, could it not?”

City Planner Reed Nester, speaking on behalf of the Triangle Project, clarified that the wording would have to be cleared up and that the College only intends to house four students per apartment.

The complex is envisioned to stand three stories tall, with the first floor housing four restaurants or retail outlets and the top two floors housing students. Fourteen apartments within the complex would house 56 students. Resident Assistants would monitor each hall.

The first floor of the building would contain over 10,000 commercial square feet. The Thiemes House, the former Master Craftsman building, and the Taylor building would be torn down to make way for the building. The latter two are vacant, and all three of the properties are owned by either the College or the William and Mary Real Estate Foundation.

The William and Mary Real Estate Foundation is a private entity formed in 2006 with the goal of developing real estate for the College.

Twenty-nine parking spaces would be available behind the completed building. As of now, students would not be permitted to use those spots.

“To live there you have to be able to park on campus,” Nester said. “I think that was non-negotiable.”

When the floor opened to public comment, one local resident questioned where the residents of the mixed-use building would park when they move in and out of their dorm.
Greene Leafe Café owner Glenn Gormley ‘84 M.B.A.’89 spoke in favor of the proposal.

“I’m really supporting what the College is doing here,” he said. “I think it is a vital thing, not so much for the College — I think [the College can say,] ‘We’ve been here for over 300 years, and we’ll be here tomorrow, too’ — but for the businesses on Scotland Street.”

The Green Leafe has two locations: one in New Town and one downtown on Scotland Street. The downtown location draws in less money than its New Town counterpart, according to Gormley.

“If you walk from where my business is now down [to the] Prince George Street area, you see a lot of businesses going out of business,” he said. “I don’t know that we’re going to be here next year, and I really hope the city [does] something here to help.”

Gormley said the College is essential to business revitalization in the area.

“Nothing can help the city more than the College,” he said. “The city was founded because the College is here. That’s why the city survived — let’s make no bones about that.”

The planning commission’s primary concern was the height of the proposed building. Gormley said he is confident the College will construct a sound structure.

“The College is only going to build a quality building,” Gormley said. “I’m not going to get into the height thing — that’s all your guys’s baby. You know the College only builds good stuff.”

Student Assembly representative Emily Gottschalk-Marconi ‘11 was the only student to speak at the meeting.

“I just wanted to echo my support for the William and Mary Real Estate Foundation’s proposal,” she said. “I know that as a student, and speaking on behalf of the students, we really appreciate all the efforts to
increase economic development for the city and find ways that we can also support the city.”

Gottschalk-Marconi expressed desire for more areas for students to eat, work and shop.

“I think it would be essential to have not only housing so close but other venues where we could contribute to the economy,” she said.

Despite Gormley and Gottschalk-Marconi’s support, several Williamsburg residents opposed the Triangle Project. One cited the difficulty of driving a car down Richmond and Jamestown Roads, and expressed a desire for sororities and the Campus Center to move on campus.

Other concerns included the building’s large size, the types of stores within the building, retail hours of operation, the building’s storm water draining and the lighting nearby buildings will have from the property’s parking area.

“If we’re too tough about this, we may lose the whole game,” planning commission member William Kafes said regarding the concerns.

Kafes said the Triangle Project would give the city more control over the area. Currently, there is nothing to stop the state government from taking the property through eminent domain or otherwise.

“I believe this building makes sense,” planning commission member Sean Driscoll said. “It addresses a lot of the needs we’ve been talking about for the last three, four, five, six years in terms of … working to create more student housing. From an economic standpoint, I’d love to see a couple great businesses in there. I’m not as concerned about parking.”

Driscoll downplayed the parking issue, doubting whether all 56 students would have cars and suggesting that the majority of the College student population probably did not own cars or did not bring their cars from home.

“We need to look for more opportunities to address student housing down the road,” he said.

The planning commission raised a handful of questions of its own.

Planning commission member Jim Joseph expressed concerns about tax revenue, the look of the skyline from Richmond Road and Scotland Street after the building’s completion and the opinions of Wawa and the Williamsburg Baptist Church, which would be the building’s neighbors.

“We have more homework left to do,” Joseph said. “We don’t want anything that is going to be detrimental to the street.”

Joseph said he was certain the student population would not be enough to sustain the potential businesses and expressed a need to appeal to city residents. He emphasized, however, that he was in favor of the plan.

“I’m not against this project,” he said. “I think it is a great one.”

Planning Commission Chairman Douglas Pons agreed.

“I think we would all agree that it is a good one,” he said.

One concern was whether the William and Mary Real Estate Foundation would have the right to sell the property in the future if it faced financial difficulty. Some residents felt that the College should have permanent control of the property.

The planning commission acknowledges that the concerns of the local residents much be addressed. An underlying concern was that the College had something it was hiding in its rezoning proposal.

“We need to make sure that everyone feels that there is clear disclosure,” Pons said.

The planning commission will work out the intricacies of the project at its March meeting.

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