Housing debate needs students

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November 20, 2008

11:48 PM

Williamsburg’s controversial three-person housing ordinance will live to see its 18th year. At their meeting Wednesday, members of the city’s planning commission decided to postpone any further discussion of the issue until at least February 2009. While we wish that the City Council had chosen to tackle this issue directly, we’re pleased to see that the rule finally generated some open and honest debate.

In defense of their decision, the folks on the planning commission said that waiting until February would give them adequate time to deliberate on the potential changes to the ordinance. And it’s important to remember that, if the debate begins in December, it could spill over into meetings in which students can’t be present. The possibility of changing the ordinance, no matter how important, probably won’t convince students to cancel their winter break plans.

Still, when the assigned date arrives, students, residents and planning commissioners must all show up prepared to thoughtfully debate the issue. Three months should give all sides long enough to quiet knee-jerk reactions in favor of reasonable arguments. It should also allow the College of William and Mary to develop a stance on the issue. Its past silence has left students to fend for themselves.

More importantly, if the debate requires further meetings, it cannot extend into the summer. Planning commission chairman Douglas Pons rightly pointed out that discussing the rule without students present would send the wrong message. As on-campus housing deposits are due in February, students deciding between on and off campus next year will need some sort of message — yea or nay — if they’re to know where they can sign leases in May or June. Any delay will effectively delay changes another year if students have already entered contracts when it takes effect. Let’s not let this rule see its 19th year.

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