Monthly Archives: February 2014

“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.

Sincerely,
                                       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”.