Arts District vote delayed after outcry

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January 24, 2011

10:31 PM

Williamsburg City Council members recently announced that they would delay a vote on the proposed Arts District until February, based on an outcry from citizens claiming they had not been properly notified of the ordinance.

A vote had originally been scheduled for Jan. 13.

Despite media coverage and several public meetings on the proposal, residents of the area, some of whom rent properties, said they were unaware of the plans until recently and were not informed individually.

“I didn’t know about it and I just got back, and my roommates didn’t know about it either,” area resident Stephanie Monahan ’12 said. “If it’s a neighborhood issue I guess it would have been better for us to be contacted earlier.”

However, Williamsburg officials are attempting to accommodate residents’ concerns by tabling the vote until next month.

“There’s nothing magic about the date Jan. 13, 2011,” Williamsburg Vice Mayor Paul Freiling ’83 told the Virginia Gazette. “There’s no reason we have to move forward today if people aren’t comfortable with the information they have.”

Freiling, the city council’s Economic Development Authority representative, took public responsibility for any misunderstanding.

“Did we do everything we were legally required to do to notify the public? Yes,” Freiling told The Gazette. “Did we do everything we could possibly have done? No. If the process was not adequate, I apologize. My bad.”

City officials had scheduled an additional informational meeting for homeowners and residents for Jan. 31.
The city has slated the area along Richmond Road and Lafayette Street between Monticello Avenue and Casey Field, near the Williamsburg Shopping Center, for the proposed district. The ordinance outlines the city’s plan to attract “creative economy” professionals to the area through the use of tax incentives.

The “creative economy” label covers a wide variety of artistic media and creative expression.

“Artists may include, but are not limited to, woodworkers, potters/ceramicists, candle makers … papermakers, sculptors and other arts and crafts uses of a similar nature,” the ordinance reads.

Also outlined in the ordinance are requirements for businesses to be considered for these incentive programs, stipulating that any potential businesses must plan for long-term residence and success in the district.

Despite efforts by the city to reach out to the community, sentiments surrounding the proposal are still mixed.

“I guess I’m always in favor of Williamsburg to encourage an arts community here and to encourage artists to come here and work,” Monahan said. “I don’t know how I feel about tax breaks being used to encourage only artists to come here, though.”

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