UPDATED July 1, 2020:

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On November 29, 2018, Williamsburg residents, area dignitaries and City staff joined Mayor Paul Freiling and members of the Williamsburg City Council in the Stryker Center for the 2018 State of the City Address. Read the address is below or click here for the PDF version.


2018 State of the City Address -

Good evening ladies and gentleman and welcome to the Stryker Center for the seventh biennial “State of the City” address.

I am honored to speak to you tonight in partnership with my City Council colleagues: Vice Mayor Doug Pons, Barbara Ramsey, Benny Zhang, and Ted Maslin, and I thank them profusely for all that they do to serve you, the residents of the City of Williamsburg.  I would also like to thank you all for being here tonight and to recognize just a few of the guests who are here with us this evening:

  • State Senator Monty Mason
  • State Delegate Mike Mullin
  • Former City Manager Jack Tuttle
  • Former Williamsburg Mayor Jeanne Zeidler
  • Former Williamsburg Vice Mayors – Scott Foster and Channing Hall
  • Former Williamsburg City Council member Billy Scruggs
  • James City County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ruth Larson
  • James City County Administrator Scott Stevens
  • James City County/Williamsburg School Superintendent Olwen Herron
  • And many, many more boards and commission members have joined us tonight.

Just about two years ago, in this same chamber, I spoke to you about Williamsburg being a caring, concerned, inclusive community—a place where all people of diverse backgrounds would be welcome.  A place where people could live without fear and speak to each other civilly.  We still very much are that place, but the same does not seem to be true always about the world around us.

Now political strife has existed throughout our nationhood.  Behaviors have been, at times, bad all along the way.  But the tenor of civic discourse, at all levels in our society these days, gives the ominous impression of deterioration.  Today, it appears to be anything but civil and there may be an even greater darkness lurking within.  And more and more that darkness is slithering to the surface.

And where has all of this taken us as a country?   

About 15 months ago, white supremacist groups marched through the streets of Charlottesville spewing vile messages of hatred and bigotry, laying bare an ugliness that many found unimaginable.  A young woman paid with her life for trying to stand up to racism.  Do you think the good citizens of Charlottesville ever thought that a scene so disturbing could play out in their community?

Just over three months ago, on the anniversary of the Charlottesville calamity, similar groups marched in our nation’s capital under the guise of white nationalism.  Fortunately, the police were well prepared and no violence occurred, but when did prejudice, discrimination, and intolerance become a political movement in the United States of America?  These messages are not about issues; they are about domination and subjugation—winning and losing—mine and yours.  Whatever happened to ours, to our collective good, to our commonwealth?

Last month, on a peaceful fall Saturday morning, an unsuspecting group of folks, in the very home neighborhood of the iconic Mr. Rogers, woke up, drank their coffee and ate their breakfast, and then gathered to pray, only to be slaughtered by a man who hated them simply because of their faith and their desire to worship God in their way.  What is happening to us?  Where are the voices of reason, of tolerance, of peace?  Where are the voices that espouse truly loving thy neighbor, however they might look, speak, worship, or live their private lives?

Fortunately, they are here in Williamsburg.  We have seen how this community can rise in support of our brothers and sisters, and we will continue to do just that.  Unfortunately, we likely have little hope of making an impact on the national scene, but we can certainly do our part to continue to make a difference here at home.  And if every community can do so, as well, then maybe we will make some progress on a larger scale.  So how do we start? 

Let’s start by addressing the concept of bullying.  Our schools deal with this subject constantly.  It is part of their intensive and continuing focus, and they do a great job at it.  But let’s not focus only on the schools and children; let’s look at how we behave as adults.  Let’s consider the impact that we can have on the next generation, both positively and negatively, in the choices we make, in how we live our daily lives, and in the examples that we project for the young sets of eyes that are constantly watching us.  Let’s exhibit a little more empathy for others at every opportunity. 

If someone is down, lift them up.  If someone is suffering, offer aid.  If someone is errant, provide constructive and gentle counsel.  Don’t berate them.  Child bullies are a problem.  Adult bullies are a disgrace and a cancer.

Let’s commit to do our best not to bully each other.  Let’s also commit not to stand idly by when we witness bullying.  So how do we know bullying when we see it?  Plainly and simply, bullying is an abuse of power or an over-extension of leverage.  Bullies prey only on those they perceive as weak or at a disadvantage because, at their heart, bullies are cowards.

Bullies call people names.  They insult them.  They yell, intimidate, and possibly threaten.  They are full of bluster and they don’t listen.  Sometimes they bully face-to-face, but more and more, being cowards, they may prefer do it through social media, and, when they do, they like to type in ALL CAPS.  Public humiliation and attempting to embarrass others is their blood sport.  Bullies can be so narcissistic, yet also suffering from such a deep-seeded sense of self-inadequacy, that their only means of building themselves up is to tear others down.

Making fun of someone else simply because they happen to be different, is terribly wrong.  Let’s commit to getting to know better those who are different from ourselves, within and without our community, so that we can grow in the process.  If we can do this, we will all be better for it.

We come to you tonight not only as your elected City Council, but we also speak on behalf of the City organization and its dedicated staff. In many circles and through a great number of awards, the City of Williamsburg is known as the standard to which local governments should aspire. This only possible thanks to the exemplary public service provided by a loyal and dedicated staff. 

They serve residents and visitors alike.  Each and every day, they work around the clock, rain or shine, in bitter snowstorms or oppressive heat to keep the City running seamlessly and efficiently, to make this our home and to keep us all safe within it.

We are a unique City, small in number, but big in community.  Although we are one of the smallest cities in the Commonwealth, Williamsburg has a great heart, abundant creativity, and a desire to be innovative and inclusive. 

We respect our history while embracing change.  Well, maybe we are still working a little on that embracing change thing!

We welcome visitors, adopt rescued dogs and cats, and cheer on the Tribe whether we went to William & Mary or not.

We celebrate together; we grieve together; and we come together in even the most challenging of times.  Who would have ever expected a helicopter to fall from the sky, suddenly and tragically killing two people, destroying an entire building, and displacing several families in Bristol Commons?  No one.  But it happened, and this community reacted and responded providing immediate, and in many cases, continuing support to those who were impacted.   

As a community we agree and disagree, but we do it respectfully.

Because we believe in civility, so we should all strive to be individual models of civility. Let’s take a lesson from one of our founders.  George Washington noted in his rules of civility and etiquette, “Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.”

Well, what is civility? According to Tomas Spath and Cassandra Dahnke, Founders of the Institute for Civility in Government, “Civility is claiming and caring for one’s identity, needs and beliefs without degrading someone else’s in the process.” 

Bullying that goes unchecked inevitably leads to increasingly bad and dangerous behaviors, so let’s strive to replace it, whenever and wherever we can, with civility.  We may or may not be a shining city upon a hill, but we can certainly be a beacon of hope for the future—for our children’s future.  On behalf of my fellow City Council colleagues, I would like to tell you, the residents of Williamsburg, how honored we are by the opportunity that you have bestowed upon us to serve this community that we all love.  We pledge to you our commitment to do so with respect and civility to all, to the best of our ability, for as long as we hold these offices.  As elected officials, that is our responsibility, that is our charge, and that is what we will do.

Well, that is enough from me.  Now let’s hear from my colleagues on the state of the city.

Vice Mayor Doug Pons:

Thank you Mr. Mayor. Think of all we have done in the past two years, and how well we have done them together:

  • After years of discussion and planning, Broad Street’s Midtown Row is underway, bringing with it a soon-to-be revitalized commercial and residential center complete with housing units, new and upgraded shops, entertainment, eateries and an exciting new public space for the residents and visitors. Classic favorites like Sal’s, Marshalls, Ace Hardware, Food Lion, Nawab and the ABC Store will remain, while a host of new businesses, like Earth Fare, will join in. The concept of a mixed-use development was a big step, and one that will most assuredly invigorate a once under-utilized part of town. And we did it together. We didn’t always agree, but through lively discussion between the city, the new owners and the citizens, we have an exciting new landscape taking form.
  • We’ve embarked on new parking initiatives and a vibrancy plan that will improve a downtown experience for guests and visitors.

We could provide a long list of accomplishments, but you’ve probably read about many of them in the press and perhaps you’ve seen many of them yourself. Rather, we will use this time to talk about where we go from here and how we plan to do it together.

Council Member Barbara Ramsey:

And to Paul’s point, if civility begins with us, then civility begins in our neighborhoods. Williamsburg has great neighborhoods. In order to best preserve them, we must work to find an equitable balance between rental properties and owner-occupied homes. This issue is not new, nor is it specific to Williamsburg, it’s a national issue that tends to affect tourist destinations and college towns the most. It just so happens that we are both.

  • As a Council, we will continue to address short-term rentals and begin a review of ARB regulations.
  • Neighborhoods are the lifeblood of any community and good neighborhood relations are imperative. We encourage participation in the Neighborhood Council of Williamsburg – a non-governmental organization, made up of wonderful local folks who are dedicated to keeping neighborhoods safe and informed while providing a place to share concerns – they take the time and effort to advise and assist each other.
  • The City’s Neighborhood Relations Committee addresses, among other topics, town and gown issues – and the relationship between permanent residents and college students.
  • And we will further engage our Neighborhood Response Teams to maintain community safety and preparedness.

Council Member Benny Zhang:

A livable community includes proper transportation – not only the ability to navigate the city, but also the infrastructure necessary to inspire development. For many years, the Capitol Landing Road Corridor has been a target for redevelopment. Never has this been truer than following the current efforts underway at Midtown. This area known to many as the Northeast Triangle, to others as Capitol Landing Road, and to others as simply “the area from the Old DMV to just past Capitol Pancake House,” has struggled to find its economic stride since the completion of Bypass Road and Route 132.  The community has acknowledged that the City must make efforts to revitalize the area and attract new development and redevelopment opportunities. While the City has taken significant steps including the purchase of two struggling hotel properties, the White Lion and the Country Hearth and Inn, we need to continue our pursuit of a catalyst for change. To this end, during the current GIO set we acquired a property with the potential to be a landmark for the corridor, the Capitol Landing Shopping Center. However, City ownership of these properties will not inspire new development. We will need a complete plan for the future of this important gateway to Williamsburg. We have been working toward what we believe can be a keystone to this project, which is the redesign of the roadway. We have secured funding to construct a new “true” lighted intersection at Bypass and Capitol Landing Road totaling $2,144,760.  We have also identified an existing $2 million in grant funds that can be applied to a redesign of the roadway.  The intersection funding is not available until 2022, however the redesign funds are available now.

Council Member Ted Maslin:

During the coming biennium we will conduct public meetings to help construct this vision.  Obvious components include improved landscaping, redesigned pedestrian features, gateway signage and additional green space.  At the same time, we will identify the highest and best use for the City-owned assets that could include new opportunities for culinary startups, food truck pavilions, community art, and/or shared workspace opportunities, all designed to expedite entrepreneurial growth. Thinking about the vision for the area is exciting and having a community-supported, publicly developed, and feasible redevelopment strategy will allow us to see it to reality. In addition to the Capitol Landing Road area,

  • You’ll see the completion of Ironbound and Longhill roads and the beginning of work on Monticello.
  • We will focus on the Monticello Multi-Use Trail and we will study the possibility of a multi-use trail on Strawberry Plains Road.
  • Based on information received from our GIO workshops, we will discuss with the Williamsburg Area Transit Authority (WATA) the possible increase in frequency of route stops.
  • In keeping with our commitment as a bike and pedestrian friendly community, we will continue to study bike share programs relevant for our tourist and college town.
  • We will continue to improve designated bike lanes and bike paths across the city and, along with the Greater Hampton Roads region, we will continue to discuss super regional bike trail development.
  • Within the next two years, we will study the feasibility of expanding the Quarterpath Recreation Center and,
  • Working with our community partners in James City County and York County, we will look closely at a possible shared indoor fieldhouse that will not only host local sports programs but will add to the region’s inventory of venues to draw sports tourism.

Vice Mayor Doug Pons:

Tourism, specifically tourism marketing and product creation, will be a major focus for the next few years.

  • With the re-creation of a regional tourism marketing organization and its working committees, the City will dedicate greater time and effort to increasing the City’s tourism product.
  • The newly created tourism infrastructure funding stream will provide resources to take advantage of even greater opportunities

For the third year in a row, the Virginia Municipal League presented the City with the Green Government Platinum Certification.

  • We will continue to find ways to reduce our carbon footprint and to promote sustainability.
  • As part of our continuing effort as a green community, we will study a variety of approaches to promote the use of renewable energy in both residential and commercial applications.

Council Member Barbara Ramsey:

And although it’s important to address roads, tourism, environmental stewardship and economic vitality, but it’s even more important to take care of each other and to address human services.

  • City staff will lead strategy sessions with Thomas Nelson Community College (Williamsburg Workforce Center at Monticello), James City County, York County, and the Greater Peninsula Workforce Development Board to create improved links and services to emerging workforce, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families/VIEW clients, & unemployed who need training and placement services.
  • After many successful years hosting the Summer Youth Achievement and Mentoring Programs, City staff will seek ways to expand the program to incorporate addressing truancy issues and academic failure as well as crime-prevention with City police on a year-round basis.
  • We are committed to work with the Williamsburg Health Foundation to create a Senior Task Force whose primary objective is to review and remove senior service barriers and to adequately support seniors aging in-place with effective community wrap-around services.

Council Member Benny Zhang:

Within the confines of human services we must address affordable housing and homelessness. According to a Housing Needs Assessment commissioned by the Williamsburg Area Association of Realtors, there are cost-burdened households in every income and age group – meaning that people are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. To be able to afford the median home for sale in Williamsburg, households generally need at least two full-time wage earners. Even finding affordable rental units in the city can be difficult – for example, to afford a two-bedroom unit at “fair market rent” a household must have the equivalent of three full-time minimum wage workers.

  • Over the course of the next two years, the city will develop a workforce housing work group and a work team of stakeholders to define and identify strategies for positive change.

    In the same respect, we must do more to address the homeless population. At any given point in time, the city could have approximately 20 homeless people living in the city. Homelessness can be identified as those who are unsheltered or those who may be living in a local shelter or motel with the rent being paid by someone else. While that number may look small, the greater issue is the need for housing intervention for those who have lost their home or those who are in need of housing assistance, like rent. City staff respond to anywhere between 15 to 45 cases requiring housing intervention per month, depending on the time of year.

  • City staff will form a work team of stakeholders to better define homelessness in the City of Williamsburg, to identify strategies for positive impact, and report to City Council with recommended next steps.

Council Member Ted Maslin:

As citizens of Williamsburg, it may be difficult for us to appreciate the reputation of Williamsburg statewide. Newcomers remind us that localities in Virginia, and indeed the nation, often look to Williamsburg for the best practice example in areas such as capital improvement funding, rental inspection programs, fire protection, environmental stewardship, and service delivery. 

The City of Williamsburg has achieved the highest credit rating possible for an agency of our size and we have secured a “true” reserve that exceeds our own policy and that of the governmental accounting standards we apply. We have achieved all of this with one of the lowest real property tax rates of any city or county in Virginia.

Another area where we have long set a standard is Strategic Planning. Our process of planning for a biennium of work, using the Goals, Initiatives and Outcomes, has been a stalwart component of our success.  The core of this effort is the City Vision:

Williamsburg will become an evermore safe, beautiful, livable city of historic and academic renown, served by a city government — cohesively led, financially strong, always improving and innovating — in full partnership with the people who live, work and visit here.

As we worked with you, the citizens, this year to develop our GIO list, we started with the completion of the National Citizen Survey.  This told us that 89% of you think that Williamsburg is an excellent place to live.  We also learned that nine in ten enjoy the overall appearance, feel it is a good place to raise children, and is a fine place to retire.  We identified that three out of four recommend Williamsburg as a new home and plan to remain in Williamsburg.  More than 90% said there is an overall feeling of safety in the City.  We also asked questions specific to the Vision and its elements.  Seventy-eight percent indicated that the City was fulfilling its vision.  The other survey results support that conclusion.  However, one aspect of the vision showed room for improvement.  Only 64% of the respondents felt we, the City, are always innovating.

Vice Mayor Doug Pons:

This theme of general satisfaction continued as we conducted two public meetings to gather input on new targets for action.  During our retreat we were challenged to consider if our Vision is a real vision of the Williamsburg we intend to be in five, 10 or even 20 years or is it simply a statement of where we are as a community.  If you consider the level of service offered by our staff to the residents, visitors, and businesses perhaps our Vision is dated.  If you consider the results of our survey, it is arguable that we need a new vision to strive toward.  If we consider the feedback of our status as an innovator, we have further evidence that we need to stretch ourselves a bit further in our goal-setting process. 

During the coming biennium we will work to construct a new vision for the City of Williamsburg.  It should be a vision that considers in equal measure innovative change and historic preservation.  It should be a vision that acknowledges the successes of our past and prepares for future achievements.  Most importantly, it should be a vision shared by the community.  We will utilize a wide public process to construct this new statement of our future and the goals that support its achievement before we embark to establish new initiatives and outcomes in the 2021/2022 GIO document. 

Council Member Barbara Ramsey:

Renewal of our vision may cause anxiety for some, but it is necessary to ensure our continued relevancy.  Slow and deliberate adjustments are required for community health and vitality. We should neither be anxious nor fear change; rather, we should welcome the opportunity to shape this new vision together. This is but one more opportunity for Williamsburg to set the standard.

Mayor Paul Freiling:

So based upon all we’ve reported on our accomplishments and for our vision for the next two years, I am pleased to report that the State of the City is healthy, strong, and energized, while the State of our Community is empathetic, open-minded, and welcoming.

We look forward to many opportunities to better serve this community with respect, cooperation and, as always, with civility.  Thank you! 

You may download a printable PDF here.

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