Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Williamsburg/ James City County Employee Home Purchase Assistance

JAMES CITY - “It’s going to be pretty tight the first couple of months,” said Chris Clauser, 23, a county firefighter. He closed on his first home this week, a new $207,000 three-bedroom townhouse in Pocahontas Square. To Clauser, the workforce housing crunch is much more than a few lines in reports, surveys and news articles. As it is for so many people, his quest has been relentless. He was finally able to find and afford his new home thanks to a little-publicized subsidy offered to county employees. The county matches $3,000 of his money to help with closing costs.
The program has been in place for several years and it’s gaining entries every year. Over the past several years, 50 employees have signed up and 34 have purchased homes.
The contribution can be used toward either down payments or closing costs. “It’s been a very useful program,” said Rick Hanson, director of Housing & Community Development. “It gives incentive for people who work in the county to purchase here in the county or City of Williamsburg in recognition that it may be somewhat more expensive to live here than in surrounding jurisdictions.” A certain amount is set aside in the county budget to match employee contributions.
Employees either match $3,000 in a lump sum, as Clauser did, or can slowly contribute to a layaway plan. “It has grown,” Hanson said. “Last year we had the largest number of participants, and this year seems to be on track to be around the same. Demand for this program seems to have grown.” Expansion may be next. Today the subsidy extends to county, James City Service Authority and library employees. Hanson said it may someday reach to school employees and serve as a model for private employers.
The $3,000 can also be combined with other assistance programs, including a similar program for first-time homebuyers. Clauser used his $3,000 toward his closing costs and took advantage of an offer from the builder to pay the remaining $7,000 to close. It leaves the firefighter looking ahead to monthly payments with a little bit of cushion. Until recently, Clauser had been renting with roommates in Hampton. The combination of programs helped him return to James City, he said. “I don’t really want to move back in with my parents,” he said, laughing. “I don’t want to be thatguy.” He found navigating the paperwork relatively easy. He furnished the county with a copy of his bank statement, credit report and pay stubs, information he had to furnish to finance the home anyway. “It was all very quick,” he said. “I was very impressed with the time, the turn-around.”
Still, it’s not something for nothing. Clauser, who has been with the fire department four years, committed to remaining with the county at least 50 more months. He cannot sell the home for three years, either. The county benefits twice by having a long-term employee and residential taxpayer. “We’ll see what my life has developed into [then],” he said. “For now, I’m 23, single. This is perfect.”

Wal Mart in New Town ? Say it ain't so !!!

Williamsburg/ James City County - Settler’s Market in New Town is expecting its first retail openings in the fall. More intriguing than the stores already signed on is one potential tenant: Wal-Mart.

Confirmed are Trader Joe’s, Michaels Arts & Crafts, Home Goods, Books-A-Million and a branch of BB&T Bank. Rumored is a P.F. Chang’s China Bistro and a specialty grocery store under the Wal-Mart umbrella.

Joe Stettinius, New Town’s marketing director, could not confirm the rumors, and a Wal-Mart spokesman did not return calls for confirmation.

Wal-Mart operates more than 120 “Neighborhood Markets,” usually in the vicinity of a Wal-Mart Supercenter. The brand was launched in 1998 with stores of 42,000 square feet, roughly a quarter the size of a supercenter like the one on Rochambeau Drive.

According to Wal-Mart’s website, Neighborhood Markets feature fresh produce, deli foods, fresh meat and dairy items, health and beauty aids, photo processing, a drive-thru pharmacy, and more. The markets employ fewer than 100 people and stock 29,000 items.

New Town has resisted big box retailers as tacky, favoring instead smaller stores and independent shops. A Neighborhood Market’s size is more in line with New Town’s scale, but the proximity to Trader Joe’s market may cause the latter heartburn.

A Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market would be the first in Virginia. Wal-Mart has more than 100 stores statewide and a massive East Coast distribution center in Grove.

Meanwhile, the rest of New Town is moving into its final years of construction, Stettinius said.

A two-acre hotel site, Settler’s Market residential and more retail on Ironbound are all up for sale. The developers are also hoping to rezone an infill parcel on the west side of Route 199 behind WindsorMeade Marketplace for 300 apartments. “We are coming down to what I call the last two years,” Stettinius said. He said New Town remains strong despite the housing slowdown. He said almost 80 homes sold last year and expects sales to hold steady this year.

Another concern has been the perception that the retail market is saturated, with High Street, Prime Outlets’ expansion, Quarterpath, Marquis and Settler’s Market all opening the same year. Stettinius said Settler’s and New Town are still attracting retailers. “It might take a little longer, but we’ll be okay in the long run,” he said. “Everybody’s just doing their thing.” New Town’s office space is also robust, with two office buildings opening on Discovery Park Boulevard. The county’s Office of Economic Development has agreed to move into office space in the Discovery II building.