Three-person focus group argues enforcement

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April 24, 2009

4:11 AM

“I think you all have reached a point of no return,” facilitator Bill Porter said. “Fact is, you didn’t reach an agreement.”

The City of Williamsburg’s Focus Group on Rental Properties Near the College of William and Mary failed to reach a consensus on a resolution that could amend or expand the three-person rule Thursday.

The focus group has been meeting weekly to develop a recommendation for the Williamsburg City Council on how to improve and enforce zoning ordinances and alleviate some of the pressures caused by off-campus student housing.

Once again, the focus group failed to agree on an effective enforcement measure for student violators of city ordinances.

Focus group member Michael J. Fox, chief of staff to College President Taylor Reveley and secretary to the Board of Visitors, indicated that the College would be taking steps to address the behavior of students who live off campus, no matter what is ultimately decided by the focus group.

These steps include a review and possible revision of the College’s alcohol policy. Fox also said off-campus students whose actions are repeatedly the subject of complaints from residents could face consequences from the Dean of Students and Student Affairs offices.

“President Reveley’s given the OK,” Fox said after the meeting. “We want to see if [the alcohol policy] has had an impact on moving students off campus.”

In addition to his enforcement proposals, Fox also said the College will be committing $40 million to the construction of student housing on campus and on property adjacent to WaWa in the years to come.

“We are committed to discussing long-term housing on campus,” he said.

Focus group member Bill Talley also emphasized the need for the College and the city to develop long-term solutions to the housing situation.

“We need to keep a healthy ratio of owner-occupied and rental homes,” Talley said.

He added that the city and the College should identify neighborhoods that could accommodate off-campus student housing and student-friendly businesses, “clustering” students away from residential neighborhoods.

Fox’s proposals, if approved, would serve as an alternative to an enforcement measure supported by several members of the focus group, which calls for the creation of a College Office of Off-Campus Housing and a database that includes the addresses of every student residing off campus.

The Office of Off-Campus Housing and database proposals had been sharply opposed by focus group member Nick Fitzgerald ’09 at last week’s meeting.

Fox echoed Fitzgerald’s comments from last week, saying that the College would not create the office. He added that the database could potentially violate a trust between students and the College. Currently, students who reside off campus are not required to give an address to the College.

“I’m disappointed that the College is not willing to step up to the plate on the off-campus housing office,” focus group member Bill Dell said. “Through an off-campus office, residents would be confident there would be consequences [to violations.]”

Focus group members Carolyn Murphy and Talley presented a draft proposal to the group that included the disputed off-campus housing office.

The proposal included a provision that would allow landlords to submit applications for Special Use Permits that would expand the rental capacity of their properties to four if they meet certain objective criteria. Input from neighbors and surrounding residents is not one of those criteria. This omission drew criticism from the other focus group members.

“Without meaningful neighbor input, I don’t see how I can support this,” Dell said.

Applications for five tenants or more would be subject to review by the City Planning Commission and the city council and would allow for the input of neighbors and community members.

In the next few days, an updated version of Talley and Murphy’s proposal will be sent out via e-mail to group members.

This proposal will indicate points upon which the group agreed as well as those that were met with dissension.

Although it is possible that the focus group may agree upon a resolution through correspondence in the next week, Fitzgerald said such an outcome is unlikely since no more meetings are scheduled.

“I wish we could’ve come to some sort of agreement,” he said. “I think this was a failure by a few individuals who may or may not have wanted come to a consensus.”

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