New law supports hotels

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April 6, 2007

3:32 PM

__Planning Commission supports law that would increase maximum stay limit to 180 days__

p. At a work session meeting last Wednesday, the Williamsburg Planning Commission showed initial support for weakening a law that limits visitors’ stays to 30 days in hotels. The proposal would change the maximum hotel stay to 180 days.

p. The commission will formally vote on the measure at their April meeting, and the Williamsburg City Council could consider the matter in May.

p. Some residents fear that removing the maximum would effectively turn hotels and motels into apartment buildings with permanent inhabitants. Doug Pons, chairman of the Planning Commission, said that those opposing increasing the limit are also afraid that the buildings would become “neglected eyesores.”

p. “All residents want to live in a safe, clean, attractive community,” he said.

p. However, most of those who spoke during the meeting, including local businesspeople, vouched for the increased stay. Reasons for increasing the stay included long-term tourists, military personnel, film and construction crews, as well as refugees from natural disasters and the out-of-state workers, like damage assessors and insurance agents, who would accompany them.

p. The largest group mentioned, however, was international students who spend the summers working jobs in the restaurant, retail and tourism industries. Currently, the rule forces the students to live outside the city in James City County, which, according to hotel industry representatives, places them too far away to work in Williamsburg.

p. “The rule is deemed to be a restraint of trade,” said Pons. He added that some hotels are designed to attract long-term visitors, and that hotels provide housing for temporarily displaced area residents.

p. To appease both sides, the commission decided on a compromise of 180 days, and is considering allowing roughly 10 percent of hotels to have no limit on stays. It is also considering requiring owners to record and report to the city the length of visitors’ stays. Rooms for on-site managers and other employees would be exempt.

p. “I believe the 180 days compromise was floated because it prevented motels from becoming permanent residences and significantly lessoned the restraint on the lodging industry,” said Pons.

p. Currently James City County, along with a variety of other localities from Alexandria to York County that commission staff researched and reported on, has no limit on hotel stays.

p. According to a city memo, the Williamsburg Zoning Ordinance defined “transient occupancy” as “less than one week” between 1947 and 1989, when it was changed to “less than 30 consecutive days.”

p. Also in the memo is a note that Busch Entertainment Corporation, the entity that operates the nearby Busch Gardens, has filed for a special exemption to provide housing for 80 exchange workers in a nearby Econo-Lodge Motel. The City Council granted the same exemption in 2006.

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