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”.

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