Planning Commission votes to delay discussing rule until focus group reports

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January 23, 2009

1:08 AM

The Williamsburg Planning Commission voted Dec. 17 to delay discussions of proposed changes to the three-person housing rule until after a focus group commissioned by the City Council releases its recommendations. The release could take several months.

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

Multiple Planning Commission members spoke against having the discussions before the focus group released its recommendations, 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 differed in his opinion, arguing that parallel discussions are not futile.

“Now that there is a draft ordinance, and now that the 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 benefits 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 should therefore 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 provided the dissenting vote.

“I certainly understand why they made that decision,” Student Assembly President Valerie Hopkins ’09 said yesterday, adding that she has “mixed feelings.”

She hopes the talks will progress quickly so that students looking for housing next year may be able to legally live.

Several city residents also spoke against the proposal during the meeting’s open forum.
Williamsburg resident Bill Dell told the commission that working parallel to the focus group was a waste.

“I have to be honest with you, I find this untenable,” 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 … approach changing the rule. And for the Planning Commission to have to go through the work and for the Zoning Commission … 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.”

Dell also argued that allowing more students to live in city neighborhoods would negatively effect the local economy and would be difficult to control.

Williamsburg resident Charles Ridinger spoke at length about a rental house on his street that he says is occupied by two football players.

“The traffic on our dead-end street is hard to believe,” he said, referring to Canterbury 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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