Sunday, December 10, 2023

Quarterpath Project In Williamsburg Three-Quarters Done And Still No Retail

WILLIAMSBURG – The biggest construction project in Williamsburg is hidden behind a thick stand of woods on Route 199, a mixed-use neighborhood with an existing hospital, ground broken for a 130-unit senior living complex and a multi-story medical office building, plans for a second office building, and by the time it’s finished, as many as 900 homes.

Despite all that spade-work, the Quarterpath neighborhood is reaching buildout with one big missing component: shops.

“There has not been any commercial yet but there is a commercial component in the masterplan and that is required,” said the city’s planning director, Tevya Griffin.

The Quarterpath Masterplan, developed by Riverside Health Systems, is nearly two decades in the making. Riverside Doctors’ Hospital opened first, in 2013, but hundreds of people now call the area home in four, multi-story apartment buildings and more than a hundred townhouses. A total of 510 units are either already built or under construction. Another 238 are proposed but not yet approved.

One parcel, nearly 16 acres along Battery Boulevard, the development’s spine road, took another step forward when the Planning Commission voted 5-2 on January 18 to recommend the issuance of a special use permit (SUP) for construction of another 86 townhomes. A small portion of that land has slopes that will require a stormwater mitigation plan. Commissioners Conor Sokolowsky and Greg Granger voted against approving the SUP before the mitigation plan was done. Griffin assured the commission there would be no site plan approval without a mitigation plan, even though the area in question is just half an acre of a 16-acre site.

“You want to make sure if someone is building on slopes that they have a plan for stormwater runoff and to mitigate erosion,” Griffin said. “They have to alleviate any negative impact on the environment that they might cause.”

But the bigger issue as the Quarterpath Masterplan nears completion may be, where is the commercial development that was a condition of the original approval?

Riverside bought 360 acres bound by US 60 and Route 199 in 2004. The land was designated an economic development zone by the City Council in 2005. The hospital system’s initial proposal promised multi-family residential, retail, and a hospital and associated office buildings on a “medical campus.”

The original vision was mixed-use buildings with commercial space on the ground floor and residential uses on the upper floors. Pedestrian-friendly streets (there are sidewalks in front of all the residential properties built so far) would lead to a “Village Center.” By design, parking and garages have been  mostly relegated to alleys behind each residential building.

But as the project approaches buildout, the only non-residential projects either already approved or in the pipeline are the two medical office buildings, one which will be for the use of Riverside’s physicians; the other for Peninsula Dermatology.

The number of commercial square footage is zero.

Other big mixed-use developments have struggled, especially in the wake of the pandemic. There are empty storefronts in New Town and empty pads in search of tenants at High Street (on Richmond Road), the city’s other big economic development zone project.

The idea behind mixed-use is that, ideally, it will create a natural market for commercial properties by nestling them cheek-to-jowl with homes, convenient for residents and ripe for generating tax revenue and jobs.  

But so far at Quarterpath that idea of a Village Center is still just an idea.

A site plan for the 86-unit townhouse project will go to the Planning Commission in February and the City Council gets final say after that. If approved, the additional 86 units will leave only 147 more units available for construction, since the Quarterpath Masterplan was capped at no more than 895 residential units.

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