WILLIAMSBURG — Dozens of Williamsburg residents have emerged to speak out against a proposed rezoning of Strawberry Plains Road that would clear the way for the development of 120 townhouses, citing traffic, safety and environmental concerns.
At a meeting on Wednesday, the city’s planning commission voted 5-0 to deny an application by Cale Development LLC to rezone the property at 180 Strawberry Plains Road. The plot, which is currently designated RS-2 zones and allows for single-family occupancy only, must be re-zoned to allow for townhouses under the proposal.
One of the selling points for the potential rezoning and subsequent sale of the land was the listing of several units for use in affordable housing, something residents said was not enough to overcome the potential damage.
“You can tell me all day long what great things look like on paper,” Williamsburg resident Debbie Burcham said during the public forum. “It’s not what it is in the real world.”
According to a city staff report, which recommended approval of the proposal, the development’s impact on traffic and the environment would be minimal. It will include up to 15 townhouses for use in affordable housing, which the City of Williamsburg has focused on in recent years.
Under the proposal, Cale Development, chaired by Planning Commission member John Cale, will sell 15 homes at a discount—$100,000 off a market price of $325,000—with the intent of providing affordable housing for Williamsburg-area workers. The city, which purchased the land for $1.1 million in 1988, will sell the land to the company for $650,000 in exchange for the listing of the affordable housing units.
However, both residents and planning committee members pointed to the fact that if the homes were not sold at a discount, they would be sold at market price, with $100,000 per unit returned to the city.
Speakers included several people who live and work near the proposed development, as well as a handful of William & Mary professors. The common consensus among them was that the potential harm to development outweighed any purported benefits.
The vast majority of public comments involved concerns about traffic, which residents said had already reached crisis levels even without a possible new addition adding 120 homes. In addition to many small businesses and neighborhood roads, Strawberry Plains is also home to Berkeley Middle School.
Danny Schmidt, a former member of the James City County Planning Commission, said safety concerns would lead him to decline the proposal.
Beth Chambers, curator of herbariums at W&M, said she was “appalled” that no environmental analysis had been done on the land, which abuts College Woods.
W&M Professor of Biology Helen Murphy explained the significance of College Woods, describing its trees that are over 160 years old. She said she worried that the Strawberry Plains development could cause severe erosion similar to what was seen in W&M’s “Grand Canyon,” a massive hole in the natural slope through which Strawberry Creek, a tributary of Lake Matoaka, flows.
“This is a five-alarm fire for us,” she said.
City Councilman Ted Maslin, whose term ends at the end of December, has pushed the city to do more than just what is legally required when it comes to traffic and environmental studies.
During their discussion, members of the planning committee agreed that more work needed to be done to make the proposal work. Member Marcia Lebel expressed concern about traffic while Bill Hamilton said the development may not be “complementary” to the existing neighborhood.
“Maybe we need to look at alternatives to what has been shown,” he said.
President James Boswell noted that his overarching goal was to make Williamsburg a better place, but he did not see the project as achieving that goal as it was.
“We could end up increasing capacity without any impact on the affordable housing goal,” he said.
In a statement after the meeting, Cale Construction said it listened to and appreciated the neighbors’ concerns and would take everything into account when deciding how to proceed. The company said it confirms that the Strawberry Plains development will be a great asset to Williamsburg, “just like many other communities we’ve developed over the years.”
“However, it is critical to understand that this project is consistent with the overall plan and helps achieve the city’s goals and initiatives with regard to affordable housing and the workforce,” the statement said. “No project will achieve these goals on its own, but Landmark Village exemplifies comprehensive zoning and is a purposeful and thoughtful approach to providing housing for our city’s teachers, nurses, firefighters, social workers, and first responders.”
Sian Wilkerson, 757-342-6616, [email protected]