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Revised Plans Approved for The Reserve at Williamsburg

The York County Planning Commission Wednesday unanimously approved recommending the Board of Supervisors amend a special use permit for a senior citizen residential community

imageThe Reserve at Williamsburg is a senior housing/independent living Planned Development approved by the Board of Supervisors back in  September of 2006

The development, located on the east side of Mooretown Road between two timeshare resorts, was approved as a 63-acre independent living senior housing community with up to 459 dwelling units and a 7.7-acre commercial center (including a future fire station site proffered by the developer) along Mooretown Road. The first phase of the project (Verena at Williamsburg), consisting of 120 rental apartment units, has been completed. Under the current approvals, the remaining units can be any mix of rental apartments, condominium apartments, duplexes, and single-family detached homes, all of which must be age-restricted (age 55 and older). The opportunity for a variety and mix of housing types was intended to allow the developer to respond over time to changing market conditions. In approving the Planned Development, the Board approved three alternative master plan concepts (and a fourth concept plan was subsequently approved as an administrative Limited Deviation) designating different residential portions of the development as either “Condominium/Apartment” or “Single-Family/Duplex.”

For various reasons, primarily the national economic slump, the project has not proceeded as quickly as the developer expected. According to the application submittals from the original rezoning request in 2006, the project was to be fully built out by 2011; to date, a total of 120 of the 459 approved units have been built. The developer hopes to improve the marketability of the project by adding townhouses and assisted living units to the list of permitted senior housing uses, which can only be done through an amendment to the original conditions of Planned Development approval.

 

Planning staff believed the addition of townhouses and/or assisted living units would have no negative impacts on either the project or the County and would likely improve the marketability of the project and its chances of success. Townhouses are compatible with the other approved housing types, and it is not uncommon for assisted living and independent living facilities to operate successfully within a single senior housing project, as in a Continuing Care Retirement Community. Williamsburg Landing in James City County, which offers not just independent and assisted living but also skilled nursing and a variety of housing unit types, is a good local example. With regard to the proposed elimination of the commercial sequencing requirements,the planning staff believes it would be appropriate to eliminate the requirement that ties the construction of residential units to the completion of specified levels of commercial construction.

Part of the original rationale for rezoning this property from a commercial designation to one that is primarily residential was its relatively isolated location in a transitional area of Mooretown Road between vacant watershed property and the tourist-oriented commercial development along Bypass Road. The 2006 staff report noted this location’s limited attractiveness for both office and retail development compared to the existing commercial node located at the north end of Mooretown Road. For office development, the International Center Business Park offers much better access to and from major highways (Interstate 64 and Route 199) and proximity to shopping, services, and the Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center complex in an attractive business park environment with a range of business sites available for offices and light industry.

For retail development, the Williamsburg MarketCenter shopping center located adjacent to the International Center offers similar competitive advantages over the subject property. These conditions still exist today and are, in fact, compounded by an extraordinarily weak commercial real estate market and a nationwide economic downturn that further diminish the marketability of The Reserve location for commercial development. The International Center currently has nine vacant parcels totaling 49 acres and a tenth parcel that has been cleared and is ready for development but  development has stalled, leaving three undeveloped sites approved for a total of almost 100,000 square feet of office space.

Likewise, the Williamsburg MarketCenter offers six undeveloped out-parcels and nine (9) vacant retail spaces with a combined total of 84,000 square feet. With the vast amount of existing retail and office space nearby that is ready for occupancy, as well as the many nearby development sites that are ready for construction as the economy recovers, staff believes that adherence to sequencing requirements for commercial development in The Reserve would most likely result in either a partially finished project or a finished project with an empty shopping center, neither of which is in the best interest of the applicants or the County.

Based on the considerations and conclusions as noted, staff recommended that the Commission forward this application to the Board of Supervisors with a recommendation of approval.

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