The Williamsburg Planning Commission held a public hearing Wednesday evening on PCR 09-017, a resolution that would allow four unrelated people to share a residence. Currently, the city prohibits more than three unrelated individuals from sharing a residential unit.
Jim Joseph became the second planning commissioner to voice his opposition to expanding the ordinance to four people, citing the economic and social dangers of transitioning single-family neighborhoods into a collection of rental properties. Commissioner Greg Ballentine has also come out against the proposal.
“We are guilty of acknowledging this transition,” Joseph said. “We should stop it by holding the line on the three-person rule.”
A majority of the residents in attendance agreed. Those who spoke at the hearing expressed concern with the proposal, centering their complaints on how more renters would negatively impact their communities.
“[The three-person rule] keeps a lid on what happens when you increase the numbers,” city resident Henry Coleman said. “The change is not a reasonable thing to do to the community.”
A common theme throughout the hearing was anxiety that increasing the possible number of renters per unit would skew the character of neighborhoods surrounding the College of William and Mary. While property values would increase for landlords hoping to rent their houses to students, homeowners trying to sell homes to other families would be hamstrung by the neighborhood’s declining surroundings.
“We do not want a house to become more valuable as an investment … than as an owner-occupied home,” chemistry professor and city resident Dave Kranbuehl said.
Some elements of the proposal being discussed were crafted in the spring by the City of Williamsburg’s Focus Group on Rental Properties Near the College. Although the focus group failed to reach a general consensus on enforcement, city staff created a proposal that incorporated a permit application system that had been discussed by the group.
Based on the proposal, landlords would be able to apply their properties for permits allowing four tenants per unit. If the property met certain criteria, including number of parking spaces, square footage and number of bedrooms, the city would issue the permit. However, violations of city ordinances would result in a permit’s revocation.
After assessing the proposal at its Aug. 10 meeting, the Williamsburg City Council voted to refer the proposal to the planning commission. The planning commission, which consists of seven members, has until Nov. 27 to present a recommendation on the proposal to the city council. However, if the commission can prove that they have been working diligently on the proposal, they can receive extensions of up to 100 days.
The three-person rule has been a sticking point for town-gown relations in recent years. Students residing at 711 Richmond Rd. were sued by the city last year for violating the ordinance, and numerous student efforts to change the law have failed.
Only one student, Kirstie Brenson ’12, spoke at the meeting.
“The [proposed changes] don’t solve anyone’s problems,” she said.
Instead, Brenson said the city should focus on enforcing existing ordinances that target the behavioral problems associated with some off-campus houses.
The Student Assembly’s Undersecretary of Public Affairs to Williamsburg David Witkowski ’11 said that the SA will refrain from publicly commenting on the proposal until the commission meets for its Sept. 23 work session.
“I didn’t feel like I had anything constructive to say,” Witkowski, who attended the session, said. “Nothing that was said today is going to make or break the process. This was more of a chance for the planning commission to gauge public sentiment.”
At least one member of the planning commission agreed with Witkowski’s assertion.
“I think that a lot of the discussion hasn’t zeroed in on the important issues,” commission member William
Kafes said in an interview. “I want to hold off expressing my opinion until the work session.”
Other members of the planning commission could not be reached for comment.