City and College agree on mixed-use Triangle Project

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April 20, 2010

5:52 AM

When it comes to off-campus student housing, residents, city policymakers and students rarely see eye-to-eye. The Triangle Retail Project is an exception.

The project, which is being overseen by the College of William and Mary Real Estate Foundation, includes 10,000 to 12,000 square feet of commercial space on the first floor, with 14 student apartments in the two stories above. The complex will occupy the property between the Williamsburg Baptist Church and Wawa along Richmond Road, and is expected to house 56 students.

“I think it’s a really great idea,” incoming Student Assembly President Chrissy Scott ’11 said. “It’s pretty much a win-win.”

In recent Williamsburg Planning Commission and City Council meetings, the project has been touted as an example of the type of development the city should encourage.

“It certainly will provide more housing for students,” planning commission chairman and city council candidate Doug Pons said. “If you look at new projects around the country, [mixed-use development] has been popular.”

Pons added that when the planning commission recommended increasing apartment occupancy limits to four people in the B-3 zoning district, the goal was to encourage property owners to redevelop with mixed-use complexes.

However, although Pons supports the project, he holds some reservations regarding its long-term impact on student housing.

As the College’s student population expands, as is expected in the coming years, the demand for housing in Williamsburg will remain.

“I don’t believe it’s going to alleviate the need for [student] housing among residential neighborhoods,” he said. “If we grow by 50, there’s still a demand for housing elsewhere.”

Pons is not the only city council candidate who supports the Triangle Project. Incumbent councilman Bobby Braxton and Scott Foster ’10 have also voiced their support.

“It’s great. It combines student housing, it’s business,” Braxton said. “A lot of students want businesses close to campus, so that that way, they don’t have to walk to heck and back.”

As city revenue declined over the past two years, attracting and retaining new businesses has become a high priority for city leaders. Developments along Richmond Road and at High Street have brought in high-traffic chain restaurants such as Domino’s, Chipotle and Five Guys — all of which are subject to the city’s five-percent meal tax.

According to a budget presentation delivered by City Manager Jackson Tuttle in March, revenues from the city’s tax on hotel rooms have dropped significantly due to a decline in visitors to Colonial Williamsburg. However, meal tax revenues have not been as severely affected.

Preliminary findings from the Student Life Survey administered by the Student Assembly and the Student Chamber of Commerce indicated that students would prefer a late-night diner to occupy any new developments within walking distance of campus — an option that Real Estate Foundation Executive Director Nancy Buchanan said is being considered for the Triangle Project.

“We hope to begin construction in July, so it’s a pretty tight schedule,” Buchanan said.

Although the city council approved the necessary zoning measures to allow construction to proceed at its Monday meeting, the Foundation still needs to get its final site plans approved by the Architectural Review Board and the Planning Commission.

“We looked at the exterior and felt it wasn’t well proportioned,” ARB Chairman Scott Spence said. “If they follow-up and make some of the changes we recommended … I certainly think it’ll have a good chance at approval.”

Buchanan said that the Foundation would be submitting its final site plan to the planning commission in the near future.

In addition to finalizing the site plans, the Foundation has also yet to determine how they will finance the project.

“We’re hoping the project will finance itself, with income from the restaurants and student apartments,” Buchanan said. “We’ve gone out to several bankers about financing.”

Initially, the Triangle Retail Project was to be financed by the sale of the Foundation’s commercial real estate in Newport News.

The property has yet to sell, which Buchanan attributes to the poor state of the real estate market.

Although overall planning for the project has not been finalized, the concept of having a student friendly business and apartment complex close to campus remains a popular one among students.

“Everything is about accessibility,” Scott said. “Putting things further and further off-campus doesn’t really help us much.”

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