The Williamsburg City Council unanimously approved a plan last Thursday to redevelop a property on Richmond Road to include restaurants, retail stores and 24 one- and two-bedroom condominiums. The prospect garnered a mixed response from neighboring residents due to the possibility of some units being rented out to students from the College of William and Mary.
The redevelopment of the property, which includes Monica Spiritual Reader and Advisor and the Dis-N-That thrift shop, is in accordance with the city’s comprehensive plan from 2006. The plan focuses on demolishing old or dilapidated structures along Richmond Road and replacing them with a mix of new businesses and homes.
While many Williamsburg residents at Thursday’s meeting agreed that the rezoning of this property is a mark of progress for the city’s plan, some expressed concern that the condominiums will turn into rental homes filled with students.
“The most important goal of the city is to build a higher percentage of owner occupancy zoning,” David Kranbuehl, a chemistry professor at the College and president of the West Williamsburg Heights Homeowner’s Association, said Thursday.
In 2003, Kranbuehl said that renters are a “cancer” in the community.
“I am not against rentals, but it is simply about getting an appropriate mix to maintain residential communities,” Kranbuehl said.
The plan states that one goal of the city is to bring owner occupancy up to 50 percent. It is currently around 43 percent.
Another goal of the plan is to increase the number of student-oriented businesses, a point former city council candidate Matt Beato ’09 brought up in the council meeting.
“This development would be in walking distance of the College, which could fit in with the student-friendly businesses outlined in the comprehensive plan, which I think we can all agree is something that would be good for this neighborhood,” Beato said Thursday.
Beato described worry over the properties becoming rentals as being “overblown” because the properties are mostly out of students’ price ranges.
“These condos are $300,000 a piece for one- and two-bedroom spaces,” Beato said. “Because of that, I don’t really think it’s necessary to impose any sort of rental restrictions on the properties.”
Many neighboring businesses agree. Gregory Granger, the owner of WMBG radio and the neighboring property on Richmond Road, expressed his support for the project in a letter to the city. He also feels that the issue over rentals is misguided.
“Rental property is a great thing for this city. As far as students living in the rentals … are students not as equal as families? They should be. I don’t think they should have one set of rules for students and one for the rest of the world,” Granger said. “Treat students like the adults that they are.”
Kranbuehl clarified yesterday that he did not mean restrictions solely on students.
“We would like a mix of owner occupied and rental units. Research we’ve done shows that basically if you don’t have a mix of the two, people can’t get financing because there are concerns about the properties’ direction over time,” Kranbuehl said in an interview with The Flat Hat. “You look anywhere in Williamsburg, and regardless of whether there are students living there or not, houses of absentee owners are not maintained in the same way, because rental property is about the best profit for minimum cost.”
He said he hopes that by requiring a certain percentage of owner-occupied condos, pressure would be put on rental units to maintain their own property.
“We were hoping that the city would encourage that,” Kranbuehl said. “Now it’s in the hands of the developer to write up the bylaws of a condo association, which can be a lot trickier.”
In the future, Kranbuehl and others hope that the city could require a certain percentage of owner-occupied housing as a condition of special use permits. While this is one of the first demolition and special use projects funded under the city’s comprehensive plan, many in the Williamsburg area hope it will attract more redevelopment projects.
“The buildings are very well designed, and it will be a terrific development,” Kranbuehl said.
Craig Reeves, the owner of the American Inn on Richmond Road, agreed.
“It will clean that area up, and it’s an awesome project,” he said. “I have no problem with students living there.”
Though a number of residents pushed for a delay of the project’s approval in order to sort out a rental restriction, City Council unanimously approved the plan Thursday night, and it will now go to the Planning Commission to sort out the future demolition and construction of the site.