Planning Commission delays 3-person rule discussion

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December 20, 2008

9:33 PM

The Williamsburg Planning Commission voted Wednesday to delay discussions about proposed changes to the three-person rule until after a focus group commissioned by the City Council releases its recommendations, which could take several months.

The proposed changes would allow for some domiciles to house four unrelated people if certain conditions, including sufficient parking and square footage, are met. Current city laws bar more than three unrelated people from living in a single unit together.

Multiple Planning Commission members spoke against continuing the discussions in parallel with the focus group’s work, calling it wasteful.

“I want to refuse the assignment now,” commission member Jim Joseph said. “Any effort of anything going on in parallel is going to be a problem for us.”

Commission member Greg Ballentine agreed.

“I think we have the cart before the horse here,” he said.

Planning Commission Chairman Douglas Pons disagreed, arguing that parallel discussions are not futile.

“Now that there is a draft ordinance and now that Council has given it back to us for discussion, part of our responsibility is to have that discussion,” he said. “One of the problems I have with putting the timeline on it is it takes us out of the discussion and I think that there may be some opportunities and benefit for us to have the potential for some discussion somewhere down the line.”

Commission member Elaine McBeth cautioned that the focus group is not an avenue of public discussion, but agreed that the Planning Commission cannot move ahead until it receives the group’s report.

“The focus group is not, as I read it, going to be the place where there’s public forums,” she said. “We are the source for general public information, but until we get the report out of the focus group, I don’t think this can be any conclusion to what we do.”

Commission member Sean Driscoll said the problems with the proposal are not the city’s problems and so should be undertaken by the administration of the College of William and Mary.

“We’re wasting our time,” he said. “We could have one work session, we could have six work sessions. We’re not going to solve this issue. We need to go back to the College, we need to say, ‘What are your long-term plans? Do you need student housing? Where do you need it?’”

The commission ultimately voted 5-1 to delay discussing the proposal until after the focus group releases its report and recommendations. Pons was the dissenting vote.

Several city residents also spoke against the proposal during open forum.

Williamsburg resident Bill Dell told the commission that working in parallel with the focus group was a waste.

“I have to be honest with you, I find this untenable. We have not even had the first focus group yet,” he said before the commission voted to delay discussions. “We have not had any comment from the public as to whether or not we are going to even, you know, approach changing the rule, and for the Planning Commission to have to go through the work and for the Zoning Commission and whatever is required to authorize the changing of the zoning based on the premise that we’re going to have some change to the occupancy regulations, to me, is just a waste of time and ludicrous.”

Dell also argued that allowing more students to live in city neighborhoods will have a negative economic effect and would be difficult to enforce.

“I’m looking at a residential property that I have close to half a million dollars invested in and I simply do not want that particular piece of property or my neighborhood to go down in value … — which will happen because of these changes to the occupancy — if we don’t have proper enforcement regulations there,” he said.

Williamsburg resident Charles Ridinger spoke at length about a rental house on his street that he says is occupied by two of the football team’s co-captains.

“The traffic on our dead-end street is hard to believe,” he said, referring to Canterbury Lane, a seven-house cul-de-sac off Jamestown Road just past Lake Matoaka. “I think it’s not what anybody on our private street, dead-end lane had in mind when they purchased their homes. … We are not very happy with students renting in the city of Williamsburg.”

Dell cautioned against moving too quickly on the proposal.

“I just don’t think it’s right and although it may not be politically correct to say this, it doesn’t pass the smell test to me,” he said. “It seems to me like we are trying to push through something.”

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