Xanterra withdraws Kingsmill Master Plan amendment proposals

Tuesday March 18:  Xanterra has asked James City County to  withdraw the rezoning portion of their application and also to withdraw all portions of the Kingsmill Master Plan amendment of the application.

However they have indicated that they plan to file a new application in the near future.

This development makes it clear that Xanterra’s plans were ill-conceived from the outset.  The many objections raised by residents at the March 5 Planning Commission meeting presented numerous roadblocks to the proposals, some of which were legal obstacles that Xanterra probably could not overcome, despite their apparent willingness to try to steam-roller the many legitimate complaints.

Residents plan to redouble their efforts to ensure that any future refiling of the same or similar plans by Xanterra meets the same resistance that the withdrawn proposals encountered.

What are Xanterra’s intentions?

JCC For Sale

“Disingenuous” seems to be hardly a strong enough word for the types of tricks that Xanterra and Winding Road Development are willing to play to win approval for their plans to build along the Country Road.

Did they refuse to provide the school proffers, knowing that this was a mandatory requirement in James City County, so that the Planning Commission would turn down their proposal on those grounds, without considering the many other legitimate reasons to deny approval?

This gave Xanterra and WRDC the opportunity to hear the many objections expressed by Kingsmill residents so that they can plan a response.

Did they provide 12 additional proffers, all very minor in nature, immediately before the meeting so that the Planning Commission would not have time to consider them, allowing Xanterra to request a deferral of the decision.

At the next Planning Commission meeting, which will in effect be a continuation of the March 5 meeting as far as this issue is concerned, will Xanterra and WRDC be allowed to make another presentation, while residents who have already spoken at the March 5 meeting will be denied the opportunity to speak again?

If Xanterra and WRDC are allowed to answer resident complaints while the resident complaints are no longer fresh in the minds of the Commissioners, will this make the Commissioners more likely to ignore those legitimate complaints?

And, when the proposal comes before the Board of Supervisors, will James City County be For Sale? Will it only be necessary for Xanterra to reverse its refusal to offer the school proffers to gain approval? Will they even be able to negotiate the value of the proffers to a lower amount? Will the legitimate objections of the many Kingsmill residents be overridden by greed once the proffers are included?

And what are Xanterra’s real intentions? Do they really plan to build these 207 homes and, if so, what is their timescale? Or do they just plan to sell lots? If the latter, will they clear many trees to build roads and install utilities, and when?

Or, more nefariously, do they plan to sell the entire 108 acres to a developer, such as Toll Brothers? Have they already discussed such a sale, or do they even perhaps have an already negotiated sale, contingent on approval of the Master Plan amendments?

Given the tricks that have already been played, it is clearly reasonable for Kingsmill residents to ask Xanterra for a detailed Statement of Intent. It is our community and we have more than 30 times as much invested in Kingsmill as Xanterra does.

If their intentions are honest and straightforward, there is no reason for Xanterra not to provide such a Statement of Intent.

Planning Commission Public Hearing on Kingsmill Rezoning and Master Plan Amendment

James City Planning Commission will hold a public meeting in Building F, County Government Complex at 7:00pm on Wednesday, March 5, 2014.

The Agenda will include discussion of the proposal for Kingsmill Rezoning and Master Plan Amendment.

The current staff recommendation is:
“Staff finds the proposal to be compatible with the Kingsmill master plan and consistent with the 2009 Comprehensive Plan Land Use Map and Zoning Ordinance; however, given the absence of proffers to mitigate expected impacts to the school system and to provide for diverse housing opportunities, both in accordance with policies previously adopted by the Board of Supervisors, staff is unable to recommend approval of this application in its current form. Staff also notes that this proposal does not meet the Adequate Public School Facilities test adopted by the Board of Supervisors for both Berkely M.S. and Jamestown H.S. Staff therefore recommends that the Planning Commission not support this rezoning/master plan amendment.”
See http://www.jamescitycountyva.gov/pdf/pcpdfs/PC2014/030514/7a-mem.pdf for full details.
Also see http://www.kingsmill.com/real-estate/proposed-master-plan-amendment for details of the February 11, 2014 submission to the James City Planning Commission by Xanterra Kingsmill, LLC.

You are encouraged to attend the meeting and to express your opinions for or against this proposal.

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“Town Hall Meeting”

Kingsmill Resort will host the next Town Hall meeting on Tuesday, February 25th at 2:00 pm at Wareham’s Pond Recreation Center. Gary Raymond with Winding Road Development will lead walking tours of the Country Road. Dress appropriately for the weather and wear comfortable walking shoes. The rain date will be Wednesday, February 26th.

Letter to The Board of Supervisors

To: James City County Board of Supervisors
101 Mounts Bay Road
Williamsburg, Va.  23185

Dear Board of Supervisors : 

      We are writing to express and underline our deep dismay and strong opposition to the proposal to amend the master plan for Kingsmill.
     We purchased our home just over two years ago with the clear understanding that the corridor along Wareham’s Pond Road and other green/undeveloped areas within Kingsmill would remain as such.  Shortly after purchasing, we learned that the Xanterra Corporation had very aggressive plans to develop and build on much of this property.
     All of the areas proposed for development are unquestionably buffer zones absolutely critical to protect the Kingsmill community from the visual and noise intrusions presented by the brewery and Busch Gardens – and, specifically, to protect the homes that already exist in the vicinity of Wareham’s Pond Road.
     The Country Road is an absolute treasure that should not be disturbed in any way – it should remain pristine.  For a company that has had considerable financial success through servicing National Parks, Xanterra should certainly understand the importance of protecting green space – particularly in a community the size and density of Kingsmill.   Xanterra, as well as James City County, should also work to protect the ecology of the area, as well as to protect anything of historical significance.  It is inconceivable that Xanterra doesn’t simply promote the use of the country road as a prime recreational area for the resort (hiking, bike rides, segway tours, horseback riding, motorized tram rides, naturalist studies and history walks)    Xanterra would do well to reconsider development of the country road, particularly at its ecologically sensitive southern end.
     We live off of Wareham’s Pond Road and we can assure you that the noise level from the brewery and Busch Gardens would be totally unacceptable for homes located behind the Wareham’s Pond recreation center and the surrounding area.  They would be almost directly under the summer fireworks, which are not only extremely loud, but actually vibrate nearby houses.  Couple this with the public address system, the ever present train whistle, the clanking roller coasters and their screaming riders, the concerts and various heavy  equipment and industrial noises and the area is anything but peaceful.  It is absolutely inconceivable that Xanterra actually projects a market – and in the upper price brackets, no less – for homes located in such an undesirable location.  During the Christmas season, noise levels actually increased with the noise buffering foliage off the trees.  Development of the country road corridor would greatly exacerbate this problem and new homes closest to the brewery and to Busch Gardens would be most affected.
     The Xanterra “business plan” still remains a major point of confusion.  The cottages on the James River have not been a successful development effort and the plan for multiple housing units on the hill above the river has apparently been abandoned.  Lots are now being sold for single family mega-mansions.  The original plan would have been much more in harmony with the condominium already situated there.  Xanterra has also stated that any building would be done in an ecological responsible way.  One need only look at the clear-cutting now underway in the Spencer Grant area to understand that this is simply a hollow promise.  Once the “clearing” permits are issued, the trees are knocked down and no attempt is made to build within the trees.  Sadly, this area was once a haven for bald eagles.
      We strongly recommend that nothing be changed on the master plan.  James City County should simply deny Xanterra’s request to develop the country road corridor. There should be nothing approved that would adversely affect the country road buffer area.  In addition, if townhomes/condos are permitted in the current RV storage area, no building should be permitted that would affect the buffer zone behind it.  A new storage site should not be located along Wareham’s Pond Road, since it would remove the critical buffer area.   In summary, no development should be allowed that would negatively affect existing residential property in the vicinity of Wareham’s Pond Road.
     We trust that James City County is well aware of the positive economic effect that Kingsmill as a community has brought to the Williamsburg area – but if over-building is permitted contentious feelings will remain and young families and retirees like ourselves will not give Kingsmill a second look.  Overdeveloped communities with minimal green space and minimal outdoor recreational areas are simply not desirable places to live.
     The Xanterra plan, if approved, would certainly affect the quality of life in Kingsmill and will most certainly destroy the appeal of a park-like setting that so many of us bought into.    Once it is destroyed, there is nothing to prevent Xanterra from selling out after they have extracted their corporate profits.  The people making these decisions and proposing these ill-conceived development projects for Xanterra at the corporate level have no vested interest in the community since they don’t live here.  The Kingsmill Community Services Association is simply forced to rubber stamp these development proposals because of its current majority composition of Xanterra employees.
      While we are certain that you’ve heard many or all of these concerns before, we would be happy to speak with you regarding any of the points made in this letter.  In retrospect, we sincerely hope that we did not make a regrettable decision by purchasing a home in Kingsmill.  Thank you for your consideration.  Our contact information is included below.

                                       Keith E. Engelmeier
                                       Linda A. Engelmeier

The tail wagging the dog – by proxy?

According to JamesCityCounty tax records, Xanterra Kingsmill, LLC purchased the Kingsmill Resort on 2 August, 2010 for $24 million.  That investment represents less than 3% of the total value of homes within Kingsmill.

On 13 June, 2013, Xanterra Kingsmill, LLC additionally purchased  the 193-acre tract of land along the Carter’s Grove Country Road for a further $2.75 million.  This tract has an assessed value of $388,500 – less than the average assessed value of a single home within Kingsmill.  The heavily-wooded tract has, until now, provided a valuable and necessary buffer between the Kingsmill community and the brewery and theme park, reducing the impact on home owners of noise generated by those commercial enterprises.

Now Xanterra is seeking to amend the Kingsmill Master Plan to exploit the latter purchase in a way that can only be detrimental to many of the existing 2,354 homes in the Kingsmill community.  Their initial plan to put 232 additional homes along the tract has been reduced to 207 homes, but still threatens the peace and tranquility of the community.

This project has been delegated by Xanterra to The Winding Road Development Company, based in Scottsdale, Arizona.  In reality, this is a 3-person company consisting of a president, Gary Raymond, an assistant and an accountant.  Mr. Raymond seems to be hell-bent on beating down all objections to the development from Kingsmill residents, and the Xanterra management behind him is essentially a no-show.  Mr. Raymond has nothing to lose and, in all likelihood, a fat bonus to gain if the development is allowed to proceed.

His recklessness is exemplified by his response to many expressions of concern about noise from BuschGardens at two well-attended meetings held on November 21 for Kingsmill residents.  Answering one specific question, he assured the audience that he had already hired a sound engineer to look into the concerns that the proposed development would cause the noise levels at nearby residences to increase substantially.

In the latest open meeting on January 22, Mr. Raymond stated: “I believe I was misquoted and I may have said something that I didn’t mean to say the last time we spoke”.  He added that his view is now that “we like to look at it on the basis of logic rather than doing a stupid sound study when the park is closed”.  (The park wasn’t closed when he originally stated that he had hired a sound engineer).  Mr. Raymond’s “logic” is that almost all sound from BuschGardens emanates from a single point source, that being the railway crossing just west of the Beer Hall.  He further asserted that sound only travels in straight lines and essentially dissipates within 330 yards.  With deft manipulation of circles on a map of the area, he was able to put forward his theory that the proposed development would have no effect on noise within the existing community.  His “logic” gives no credence to the idea that screams from roller coasters are substantially attenuated by the many tall trees that he is proposing should be cut down.

Apart from concerns of Kingsmill residents, this proposed development also carries repercussions for the entire JamesCityCounty community.  Mr. Raymond made it clear that the proposal includes no proffers to support JamesCityCounty schools or other services, relying only on the anticipated increase in the overall County tax base.  In the proposal to James City Planning Commission, he included a Fiscal Analysis Statement that assumes an average market value for the 81 new single family homes of $639,135.  At the meeting, he justified this figure with an assertion that hard and soft construction costs for a 2,500 sq ft home would be at least $500,000.  He also stated a belief that the very close proximity of these homes to the brewery or to the theme park would have no impact on their market value.

According to Trulia.com, recent sales in the 23185 zip code have averaged $148/sq ft.  Taking Mr. Raymond’s figure of an average of 2,500 sq ft home size, this would give an average market value for each home of $370,000.  It’s a stretch to imagine that these homes, adjacent to the brewery or theme park would actually sell for an average of $639,135.  Xanterra’s record on sales of newly built properties hasn’t been too good.  The company built four of the proposed eighteen “Cottages On The James” at between 2148 and 2290 sq ft each and, despite heavy promotion since February 2013, have yet to sell one of them, and now proposed to rent them out in the spring and summer.

If this proposed development goes ahead, it is likely to depress overall property values in Kingsmill, putting further fiscal pressure on JamesCityCounty.  In the best analysis proposed by Mr. Raymond, there is very little benefit to the County arising from the proposed development and, in the worst case scenario, there would be fiscal losses, unhappy residents, conflicts between residents and commercial enterprises, and desecration of part of a fragile ecosystem that the Virginia Natural Heritage Program strongly recommends should “not be rezoned but continue to be maintained as a natural area”.

J4C Explores the Country Road at Jan Meeting

j4c_countryroadDeveloping The Country Road
General Meeting
Monday, January 6, 2014
7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
JCC Human Services Building
5249 Olde Towne Road
Unique Botanical Resources in the Grove Creek Watershed
Dr. Donna Ware
Retired Curator, The Herbarium
College of William and Mary

(The public is invited to all J4C meetings)

In their Dreams?

The latest proposal for Master Plan Amendment submitted by Xanterra to James City Planning Commission on December 2 ignores the many complaints made about the likelihood of increased noise to existing homes. The submission includes a detailed traffic report and suggests that Xanterra has responded to issues raised at public meetings, but makes no reference to the noise issue, which was raised by several people at the November 21 public meetings, and followed up in the email to Xanterra copied in the Post below. Where is the report by the noise expert that Gary Raymond assured us was being prepared?

And, in the FISCAL IMPACT ANALYSIS WORKSHEET AND ASSUMPTIONS on Tab 7 of their submission, Xanterra assumes that Single Family Detached Homes will have an average market value of $639,135 and that Townhome/Condo/Multifamily Units will have an average market value of $450,000.   If actual market values proved to be 25-30% lower, the net Fiscal Impact on James City county would be negative.   And, if the likely negative impact of the proposed development on market values of existing homes is also taken into account, there is a high likelihood that the Final Fiscal Impact of the proposed development will be negative for James City County!

Moreover, the over simplistic calculations shown in the Fiscal Impact Worksheet Section 6: Phasing on Page 10 of Tab 7 assume that construction of all developments will proceed at the same rate, which contradicts Gary Raymond’s statement that the townhomes would be constructed first.

Which local realtors would be willing to stake their good name on these proposed homes, on very small lots adjacent to Busch Gardens, selling for $639,135?   Or are these numbers only in Xanterra’s dreams?

A Question of Motive?

Xanterra purchased the tract shown in yellow from Busch Properties on June 13, 2013 for $2.75 million. The assessed value is $388,500. Kingsmill Ownership Map
Busch Properties had purchased the same tract from Colonial Williamsburg on Dec 8, 2006 for $417,700. It’s not a perfect guide but, according to Trulia, the median sales price for homes in the area is still slightly below what is was in December 2006:

23185, Williamsburg median sales prices

What was Xanterra’s motive in purchasing this tract in June of this year?