September 09, 2021
Kingsmill Community Master Plan: Creative Solutions for the Community
By: Grace Pickron
Over the past year and a half, the pandemic has caused a shift in many ways of how we typically tackled life. Whether it was wearing a mask to the grocery store or saving an extra 30 minutes each morning on your commute as you worked from a designated spot at home, it is safe to say that things have changed. One overwhelmingly positive change was discovering the power of virtual community engagement during the 2020–2021 master planning process for the Kingsmill Community.
Timmons Group’s Landscape Architecture group worked with the Kingsmill Community Services Association alongside subconsultants Guernsey Tingle and Brand Federation to lead a detailed amenities and facilities initiative for Kingsmill on the James, a master-planned community in James City County, Virginia. As the team’s planning efforts kicked off in March of last year, the need for creative solutions to engage the community became essential since in-person meetings were no longer possible.
The Kingsmill Community is comprised of 35 miles of roads, tunnels, and bridges; three recreation centers; five tennis courts; two basketball courts; numerous lakes, ponds, streams, and environmental areas; and over a mile of riverfront beach that serve 5,600 residents in 2,370 households. Nearing its 50th anniversary in 2023, Kingsmill needed a new visioning process to reposition the neighborhood as a premier community that continues to serve current residents and attract new community members.
It goes without saying that Kingsmill’s community members are closely invested in the future of their beautiful neighborhood along the James River, which is why having their involvement in the decision-making process was crucial to the success of the project. “At the very beginning we made a point of saying that we wanted this to be a completely open process that was as transparent as we could make it. At the end of the day, we wanted whatever plan we came out with to reflect what the community sees itself being in the future,” said John Hudson, President at Kingsmill Community Services Association.
To best engage community members and get as much input as possible without in-person meetings, the Landscape Architecture team had to get creative and make the most out of the virtual realm. They implemented a total of five community-wide presentations, three board-level presentations, several community surveys, design sessions, live polling events, and other engagement strategies to ensure that the final plan represented a broad spectrum of community input.
During the process, the team discovered that Zoom could recreate some of the same energy as in-person experiences. Trevor Buckley, a landscape planner at Timmons Group, explained, “There were lots of cool functionalities in Zoom that we discovered helpful in the process. Live-polling was beneficial to get instant feedback on design concepts as was the Q&A feature to help manage and address each question from the audience.” These virtual meetings allowed for a safe and more readily accessible means for attending, especially for some individuals where in-person attendance, even outside of pandemic conditions, might pose a challenge.
Another benefit of Zoom was its recording capability which allowed the team to easily document the meetings and post them onto the Kingsmill Community Services Association website. The team paired a Google Forms survey with each of the meetings so they could continue polling community members as they watched the presentations on their own time. The team used this combination of tactics to achieve their goal of capturing the broadest community participation as possible.
Once navigating the uncharted online territory, the team soon realized the positive benefits of the situation. “While challenging at first, in some ways the virtual engagement was easier for people to plug into and they can work it into their lives wherever they are located at any point in time,” said Scott Wiley, Principal and group leader of Landscape Architecture at Timmons Group.
The Landscape Architecture team received a wealth of community input over several months that enabled them to develop a proprietary cost-value calculator for the community-drive master planning process. This tool categorizes and ranks a lengthy list of ideas and recommendations for neighborhood improvements. The results of the project valuation exercise established the foundation for Kingsmill’s new long-range plan. The final plan is already being used to prioritize capital improvements to align closely with operating budgets over the next 20 years. With the newfound power of virtual community gatherings, the Timmons Group Landscape Architecture team made the most of an unprecedented situation and collaborated with a dynamic client to deliver an impactful plan.
Check out the full live discussion with Scott, Trevor, and John on LinkedIn!