The Triangle News in 5: Families face housing insecurity amid closure of Newport News airport's mobile home park

Plus: Highway Pizza opens in Williamsburg, Waller Mill Park closes 2 days a week and Busch Gardens is ranked among the nation's best theme parks by USA Today.

Good morning!

It’s shaping up to be a warmer and drier week, according to WTKR News 3’s Myles Henderson.

While highs will be in the 70s and 80s for the next few days, we can expect summer-like conditions for the weekend, with temperatures getting up into the 90s.

The good news is that many of the events happening over the weekend should be able to commence without the threat of rain.

If you missed my community calendar of upcoming local events, I’ve linked to it again at the bottom of this newsletter.

And as always, if you have any questions, comments or news tips, I’d love to hear from you. Please reach out to me by hitting “reply” to this email.

Now to the news.

-Christin

1. Nearly 80 families are being forced out of their homes as Newport News airport closes its mobile home park.

  • Many longtime residents of Patrick Henry Mobile Home Park planned to continue living there for years, and some even say they recently invested thousands of dollars to upgrade their homes. But two weeks ago, a termination notice was posted up on the park’s community mailbox, informing the tenants they must vacate the property, the Daily Press reports.
    • “It’s not my trailer,” said 51-year-old Jenny Rolon, who recently spent $25,000 on renovations. “It’s my home.”
  • Residents say the mobile home park is a comfortable community where there’s little crime, children play together and neighbors offer one another a helping hand. But the Peninsula Airport Commission, which owns the property, is suddenly closing the site, citing financial reasons.
    • The original notice gave residents until Aug. 28 to vacate. That date was later moved up to Nov. 5 due to legal requirements, but many residents say they’ve been blindsided by the announcement and have nowhere to go.
    • “That’s my house. That’s my peace. I’m a single mother. I work hard to take care of my children… and they want to kick everybody here out,” Yahaira Martinez Hernandez told News 3, holding back tears.
  • The park, which dates back to at least the 1950s, is “not bringing in the income” from a business perspective, according to Mike Giardino, the executive director of Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. Airport executives also say the park’s infrastructure has declined over the years, and it will be too costly to make all of the needed repairs.
  • Residents have been offered incentives on a descending scale: $2,000 to leave by the end of May, $1,000 by June and $500 by August. But they say such compensation is far too little to cover the strain of having to relocate, especially during such turbulent economic times.
    • Most of the residents will have to fork over upwards of $5,000 if they want to move their mobile homes to a new location, according to News 3. While the United Way is reaching out to help the tenants, representatives from the organization stress that the timing of the closure is especially problematic because home costs are increasing at an untenable pace.
    • “The timing couldn’t be worse,” said Charvalla West, chief operating officer and director of community impact. “Affordable housing is almost nonexistent. It’s so scarce right now.”
  • At least 20 tenants have pooled together $8,500 to hire a lawyer to challenge the airport. At the very least, they’re hoping the airport will be required to pay a fair price for their homes.
  • Airport executives said there are no immediate plans for the future use of the property.

A group of children walk home after school. Nearly 80 families are at risk of losing their homes after Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport executives announced it would be closing the Patrick Henry Mobile Home Park in Newport News. (Photo by Julia Rendleman).

2. Highway Pizza has officially opened in Williamsburg.

  • Highway Pizza held a soft opening on Saturday, May 14th. The restaurant is located at 3044 Richmond Road in the spot formerly occupied by Cici’s Pizza.
    • The new pizza shop focuses on providing a friendly atmosphere and features over a dozen big-screen televisions in a unique, highway-themed setting. It also offers a pet-friendly patio.
  • Highway Pizza plans to hold a bigger grand opening celebration on Saturday, May 21, according to an announcement posted to its Facebook page.
  • The restaurant features a variety of menu items, including specialty and create-your-own pizzas, sandwiches, salads and cocktails. Vegan and gluten-free options are also available.
    • Highway Pizza will be open from 3:00 pm – 10:00 pm on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and from 3:00 pm – 11:00 pm on Friday and Saturday. It will be closed on Tuesdays. For more information or to view the full menu, visit Highway Pizza’s Facebook page.

3. Waller Mill Park in Williamsburg will close two days a week amid staffing shortages.

  • The popular park will be closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting the week of May 16. The closures are the result of an “ongoing shortage of part-time park employees,” according to a City of Williamsburg news release.
    • Waller Mill, which is located at 901 Airport Road, features scenic picnic areas, a dog park, ball fields, playground equipment and a 360-acre lake for kayaking and canoeing, boating and fishing.
    • While the park was previously open 7 days a week, it’s been closed one day a week since October 2021. It now operates from 7:00 am to 8:00 pm on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
  • The City of Williamsburg is working to address the staffing shortage by raising its part-time hourly rate to $19 an hour, effective at the start of the fiscal year on July 1, 2022. Those interested in applying should visit williamsburgva.gov/jobs.

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4. Busch Gardens Williamsburg was named among the nation’s top theme parks by USA Today readers.

  • Busch Gardens was ranked the fourth-best theme park in America in USA Today‘s 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards for 2022. The park received the nod in part because of its unique European theme, which “transports visitors to England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany and Italy.”
    • Editors also noted that Busch Gardens Williamsburg is consistently rated one of the world’s most beautiful theme parks by members of the National Amusement Park Historical Association.
  • Busch Gardens Williamsburg was also featured on several other theme-park-related 10Best lists for this year. Trappers Smokehouse and Das Festahus both ranked among the top ten best theme park restaurants, and Celtic Fyre – which features live Irish step dancing – was ranked as the #1 best theme park entertainment.
  • The 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards are designed to recognize the 10 best in a variety of travel-related categories, including food, lodging, destinations, things to do and more. A panel of experts worked with USA Today‘s editors to come up with the first round of nominees, and then the top 10 winners were selected by popular vote.

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The results are in! We are excited to share that we’ve topped the charts in multiple categories for USA Today’s @10Best…

5. The City of Newport News is launching a gun violence intervention program in response to the results of a recent community-wide survey.

  • The city recently collected over 2,000 Community Safety Survey responses after seeking input from local residents. The survey, which featured 36 questions, was available for four weeks and asked people to weigh in on various topics, including perceptions about crime and personal experiences.
  • Now that the results are in, city leaders have announced that they’re launching a gun violence intervention grant initiative in partnership with Christopher Newport University.
    • The program will be available starting May 23 and will allocate up to $15,000 in funding for community organizations to help fight gun violence, according to a news release.
    • Organizations interested in applying for the funding are strongly encouraged to register for and attend a Pre-Application Session on Wednesday, May 25 from 6:00 – 7:30 pm at the Brittingham-Midtown Community Center.
  • Details regarding the results of the survey will be released to the general public this summer, according to the city. Updates will also be posted to the City of Newport News Community Safety Initiative webpage.

6. Local leaders in James City County and Williamsburg plan to use grant funding to boost tourism to the Historic Triangle.

  • Local leaders agreed last week to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to help attract more visitors to the Historic Triangle, the Virginia Gazette reports. The Williamsburg area faced significant challenges to its tourism industry in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic hit.
    • Visit Williamsburg, the official tourism organization of the Greater Williamsburg area, will allocate nearly $1 million in funds to launch a marketing campaign geared toward the Boston, Massachusetts, area. Boston was identified as an optimal target area based on a variety of reasons, including the fact that it has its own rich colonial history.
    • Funds for the ad campaign will come from ARPA grants provided by James City County ($295,000), Williamsburg ($402,000) and York County ($240,000).
    • Victoria Cimino, CEO of Visit Williamsburg, said during a business roundtable discussion that tourism so far for 2022 is exceeding expectations and even outperforming 2019, which was the best performing year for the area since 2007, the Peninsula Chronicle reports.
  • In addition to marketing initiatives, $275,000 of the ARPA grant from the Virginia Tourism Corporation will be used by James City County to fund a portable stage and portable restroom for special events and concerts. The City of Williamsburg will also use over $260,000 in ARPA grant funds for a “signature destination event,” which will be further detailed in the future.
  • Acceptance of the ARPA grants was approved by both the James City County Board of Supervisors and Williamsburg City Council during meetings last week.

Lowest Gas Prices Today

All gas prices shown are per GasBuddy. To check the latest prices based on zip code, click here.

Local Covid-19 Update

New cases: ➕ VDH reports that an additional 17,710 people in Virginia tested positive for Covid-19 last week. That’s up from 14,126 cases that were reported during the previous week. On the Peninsula, the highest numbers of new cases last week were reported in Newport News (+291), James City County (+202), Hampton (+161) and York County (+119) according to WTVR News 6.

Hospitalizations and deaths: An additional 444 people were hospitalized with Covid-19 in Virginia last week (up from 294 the week before), according to VDH data. 37 Covid-19-related deaths also occurred in the state last week (down from 44 the week before), according to VDH.

Vaccination rate: 73.5% of Virginians are fully vaccinated (up from 73.4% last week).

In the National News

  • A violent weekend: More than 65 people were shot – 17 fatally – in a string of deadly mass shooting incidents that impacted eight U.S cities last weekend, ABC News reports. All involved multiple victims and occurred within a 72-hour span. The deadliest of the shootings – a racially-motivated hate crime at a grocery store in a predominately black neighborhood in Buffalo, NY – is spurring congressional consideration of bipartisan legislation to address increasing violence. Joe Manchin (D-WV) told Politico he wants to renew a push for the passage of a bill he developed with Pat Toomey (R-PA) to expand gun background checks. Congress will also review legislation to combat domestic terrorism on Tuesday, per Axios.
  • Surrender in Mariupol: Over 250 Ukrainian troops have laid down their arms amid orders from Kyiv after months of unrelenting Russian bombardment in the city, the AP reports. “The supreme military command ordered the commanders of the units stationed at Azovstal to save the lives of the personnel… Defenders of Mariupol are the heroes of our time,” the General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces said in a statement. Many of the soldiers are wounded and have been bussed to Russian towns. The surrender may mark the conclusion of the battle of Mariupol, where Ukrainian officials said tens of thousands of civilians have already been killed amid Russia’s assault.
  • Inflation concerns: Americans are more worried about inflation than any other national issue, according to the results of a large-scale FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll published May 17. More than half of all Americans said inflation is the most pressing problem facing the U.S. Inflation led the way among both men and women, all age groups and all party affiliations, indicating that Americans as a whole are deeply concerned about the impacts of rising costs.

Events This Week

Miss this week’s community calendar of upcoming local events? You can find it here.

This listing has been updated since it was originally published to include two additional events: a free Walk and Talk hosted at York County’s New Quarter Park on Friday, and a free movie in the park to be held at the McReynolds Athletic Complex in Yorktown on Saturday.

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