Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Williamsburg Residents Meet To Defeat Plan For Spotswood Development

WILLIAMSBURG – A packed house at the Williamsburg Regional Library theater earlier this week heard an impassioned takedown of the plan to build up to 172 homes on a former golf course owned by Colonial Williamsburg. Speakers said the development would cause “nightmarish” environmental problems, that the traffic study commissioned by the developer is fatally flawed, and that a high-density development in central Williamsburg will change the character of the Historic Area forever.

The meeting, which drew about 200 people, was organized by a group called Citizens for Responsible Spotswood Development, led by Williamsburg resident Fraser Hudgins.

“It’s not about us against the city council, or the planning commission, or the ARB (Architectural Review Board),” Hudgins said. “It’s about expressing what we want to see in our city.”

Frye Properties, a Norfolk-based developer of luxury homes, contracted to purchase the 37-acre Spotswood Golf Course from Colonial Williamsburg on the condition of winning approval from the city to rezone the land from single-family (RS-1) to Planned Residential District. The current zoning would allow the construction of up to 86 single-family homes. Frye’s request would double the number of homes.

Michael Youngblood, a resident of South England Street, which bisects the planned development, spoke about a provision in the city charter that requires a supermajority (four out of five votes rather than three out of five) of the city council to approve a rezoning that is opposed by the owners of 20 percent of the land mass around the subject property.

However, there are four different ways to calculate that land mass so it’s unclear if his petition, which has 31 signatures from 49 property owners, would meet the necessary threshold because the majority of the land adjacent to Spotswood is still owned by Colonial Williamsburg.  That said, “A healthy majority of our neighbors who are not Colonial Williamsburg and don’t have a conflict of interest strongly oppose this (project),” he said.

The next speaker was Randy Chambers, who identified himself as a “teacher at a local college.” (He is actually a professor of biology at the College of William & Mary and director of the Keck Environmental Field Lab.)

Chambers showed photographs that illustrated how stormwater runoff caused by retention ponds around Strawberry, College, and Paper Mill creeks have eroded stream banks and damaged the root systems of trees.  The runoff from a site covered with homes, roads, and sidewalks is going to be far more substantial than the runoff from a nine-hole golf course.

“It takes years for the runoff from the golf course to reach those streams,” Chambers said. “It will take hours for the runoff to reach them if that land is developed. This development is going to treat Paper Mill Creek as a storm sewer.”

Rock Bell, vice president for development at Frye Properties, said the company has every intention of addressing environmental impacts but that work is typically not done this early in the process.

“We’ve done an endangered wildlife study but stormwater modeling and water management issues, that is all done during site plan review,” Bell said. “We’re not there yet.”

The final speaker was Jack McKeown, who lives in the South England Point neighborhood and studied architecture with the founders of the New Urbanism movement at Columbia University.

McKeown reviewed the Traffic Impact Analysis composed for Frye Properties by the Timmons Group, a Richmond engineering firm. McKeown said the traffic study is “fatally flawed” because of the days the firm did its car counts – the Thursday before Memorial Day Weekend and during a day when Colonial Williamsburg was hosting the Grand Illumination in December, which typically involves closing Newport Avenue to through traffic.

“William and Mary was not in session and much of the 10,000-plus campus had left town,” McKeown said. “Both dates reflect an atypical level of tourist, visitor, and conference center traffic.” 

That, McKeown said, skewed the conclusions of the study – that 70 percent of the traffic would travel north on South England Street to Francis Street (in front of The Magazine) rather than turn left at Newport Avenue. The study estimated the new homes would generate 1,644 daily vehicle trips onto the two-lane South England Street but still concluded that “the development will have minimal to no impact” on a neighborhood of narrow, two-lane streets, and “no improvements are required at any of the study intersections to accommodate the site traffic.”

“The truth is the opposite of Frye’s traffic distribution assumptions,” McKeown said. “Seventy percent or more of the new residential traffic will flood Newport Avenue, South Henry Street, and Confusion Corner intersections with thousands of additional daily turns. It’s a nightmare scenario.”

Bell said the traffic study was “based on what the city of Williamsburg asked us to model.” Since it was submitted, however, the city has asked Frye to expand the footprint of the study and do additional modeling. That said, Bell said he doesn’t think the original data is necessarily flawed.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of William & Mary student traffic that goes up and down South England Street,” Bell said.    

Fraser ended the meeting by encouraging the audience to email the city planning staff, members of the planning commission, and the city council. Names and email addresses were provided by a staff of college students handing out flyers and taking names and email addresses at the entrance to the library. He has established a Facebook page for updates and information about scheduled meetings and asked the audience to sign the petition on

Bell said none of this is discouraging.

“It’s all part of the process,” Bell said. “We still firmly believe it’s in the best interests of the city of Williamsburg to approve this project. There are always going to be people who object. It’s not anything we didn’t expect.”

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