Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Ford's Colony Update Jan 2008

JAMES CITY–– The new Republcian supervisors will be tested promptly on the limits of growth as homeowners in Ford’s Colony resist a big assisted living facility and a model plan for workforce housing. The protest has gained almost 900 people on a petition objecting to both projects. What’s new is a full-court press to see if the new Republican majority will stand up to Realtec, the development company under Ford’s Colony management.
The prognosis for that is weak. The supervisors were expected to deal with the controversy Jan. 22. When opponents smoked it out on the agenda, it was mysteriously deferred though hardly killed. Republicans are caught in a growth dilemma. They seem to favor Ford’s Colony in the argument on the basis of precedent and economic development. But the land use and legal arguments tend to favor the opposition. The sheer volume of feisty resistance is buoyed by exploiting a zoning loophole. Both projects lie outside the compound, across News and Centerville roads. Realtec owns the land and wants to expand. Critics have uncovered two arcane points in the zoning ordinance that could unravel the developer (see box). Section 24-275 suggests that Realtec may have lost its status as a residential planned community because it no longer owns at least 400 acres. Opponents contend that 77% of the com­pound is owned by families and couples who have bought homes over the years, vesting 95% of the assessed property valuation in their hands.
Section 24-283 stipulates that Realtec can expand, but only if it owns or controls the compound. Opponents cite the word “ownership” as crucial. The county has historically interpreted the clauses to mean that the developer should initiallyhold 400 acres. Opponents are pushing for a strict interpretation that would acknowledge that Realtec has sold off controlling interest. “We agree with the way the county has been interpreting it for the last several decades,” Realtec president Drew Mulhare said. “We’ve gone through several masterplan amendments, which have included additional property, and this issue has never been raised before.”
Should the opponents prevail, it could have ramifications for Governor’s Land, Kings­mill and Stonehouse, limiting their ability to expand outside their compounds. More to the point, it would limit Realtec from continuing to expand into the countryside of Centerville Road beyond the two projects on the drawing board. While hundreds are protesting the assisted living facilty and workforce housing, the Ford’s Colony Homeowners Association has not taken a stand. That’s because the HOA continues to negotiate with Realtec in hopes of getting a better deal through more creative proffers.
Last fall the 283 dilemma was presented by the county planning staff to the old Board of Supervisors, which directed staff to find out how other counties deal with it. The Jan. 22 work session was supposed to tackle 283, but it fell off the agenda. The issue is not listed on the work session agenda schedule beyond that. Powhatan supervisor Jim Icenhour, himself a Ford’s Colony resident opposed to Realtec’s plans, wondered this week how it got scuttled. “I found out today it’s not going to be on the agenda,” Icenhour said in an interview Thursday. Some believe the new Republican majority is not eager to field 283 opposition. Stonehouse supervisor Jim Kennedy has noted that the proposal isn’t simply residential but also has a business component, which the Republicans strongly favor. Roberts supervisor Bruce Goodson said this week that a majority of county residents want to see county procedures that stall development removed, fueling greater growth. Republican party chair Chris Henderson, also a Ford’s Colony HOA board member, said that for James City County to strictly interpret the zoning ordinance would be an example of government interfering with contractual relations between homeowners and the developer.
Henderson argued that bringing 283 into the argument was simply an attempt by opponents to capitalize on a poorly worded ordinance to bolster NIMBY arguments. “What these people really want is veto authority over land use,” he said. Even with a strict interpretation of the county ordinance, though, Realtec’s bid might not be dead. Mulhare said that the Ford family has diversified its holdings into separate entities for estate planning purposes. But it would still have far more than 400 acres if forced to reconsolidate to move the two plans forward. Legal experts believe that Realtec hopes to avoid any scenario that re­quires a special use permit, since that would open the door for outright denial based on public pressure through formal hearings. Much of the opposition has been led by James City Citizens’ Coalition, or J4C.
Icenhour at­tended a J4C meeting as a guest Thursday evening and explained that, with the issue off the Jan. 22 agenda, it won’t be raised before the Planning Commission considers the case Feb. 6 unless the supervisors have a change of heart next week. “Well, 900 people asking them to do something, it ought to move some weight,” homeowner Dale Merriss argued.
For More information contact John Womeldorf/ Mr Williamsburg/ Liz Moore & Associates
757 254 8136
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