Commission decides against 4-person proposal

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September 25, 2009

3:03 AM

The Williamsburg Planning Commission reached a consensus Wednesday not to recommend a proposal to the City Council allowing four unrelated persons to live in a rental property.

After listening to comments from students at the College of William and Mary and members of the community, planning commission members agreed that an increase in persons per rental unit would not solve off-campus housing problems. Instead, they believe alternative options should be further explored.

“This really is an issue of where do we create more student housing,” planning commission member Doug Pons said. “The four-person rule is really just a band-aid. It’s not going to create the housing needed for students.”

Students emphasized the importance of increasing persons in rental units to raise off-campus housing
affordability and alleviate some of the enforcement issues surrounding the three-person rule.

“Were it feasible, we would live off campus, but the affordability doesn’t match up,” Student Assembly
Undersecretary of Public Affairs David Witkowsky ’11 said. “If we are living in a space that can fit a family of six and it’s just me and two friends, it can be much more affordable if it is me and three friends. I think there is a disparity there that needs to be accounted for.”

SA representative Emily Gottschalk-Marconi ’12 emphasized the necessity of maintaining a dialogue between the city and the College.

“While we support many aspects of the proposal, we encourage many changes to find an acceptable solution to this problem,” she said. “We are excited to continue dialogue on areas such as enforcement, and we invite any member of the commission to come to our meetings and continue the dialogue.”

Although all seven members of the commission agreed to put discussion of the four-person rule aside, another work session meeting is scheduled for Oct. 7. The Planning Commission is required to report to the
City Council by Nov. 27, but can file for an extension if needed.

“We need to provide something to [the] City Council that is somewhat unified,” commission member Elaine
McBeth said. “It seems that there are some general discussion points, which we need to get out between ourselves.”

While the commission has been searchsearching for a solution, the College is making an effort to create more housing, including a new residential complex near Wawa on Richmond Rd. that will offer 50 more rooms and a new dormitory that will create 200 rooms on campus.

However, when there is a total of 3,281 undergraduate and graduate students living off campus each year, 250 rooms do not appear to solve the problem.

“If the College could get something started in the next six to 12 months, it would greatly help in the next two to three years,” commission member Sean Driscoll said.

During the work session, students and community members voiced their opinions in an open forum. Students supported the increase to four people, while many members of the community spoke against it, claiming that an increase would cause neighborhoods to become rental investment developments.

“We do not want to lose our single-family homes to absentee landlords,” Williamsburg resident Bill Dell said.
Witkowsky plans to continue discussion of increasing the number of persons per rental unit, even if the Planning Commission does not think it is a viable solution.

“We encourage any and all students to attend the upcoming work session on Oct. 7,” Witkowsky said. “If the Planning Commission won’t hear us, then we’ll have to go back to City Council’s public hearings and work our way back up from ground zero.”

Josh Karp ’11, head of Students for a Better Williamsburg, believes that even though the four-person rule discussion has ended, progress from the Planning Commission is encouraging.

“It is a little bit disheartening that the door is closing on four,” Karp said. “I am very excited to see what the new progress is going to be.”

Other concerns expressed from the community include the destruction of family-friendly neighborhoods through the presence of renters and the negative behaviors associated with College students.

“There are three undergraduate students who live down the street from me who often throw parties,” Williamsburg resident Flora Adams said. “What partiers do indoors, I don’t know. However, I do know what some of the partiers are doing outside of the house on their way home. They are leaving lots of trash along the way, and they are fornicating, sometimes loudly. Is there a way to keep student rentals from becoming party houses? I don’t know. But I do know that increasing their numbers won’t help.”

One clause included in the proposal, the “in good faith and good cause” clause, troubled Students for a Better Williamsburg member Kirstie Brenson ’12. If passed, the clause would allow tenants to be evicted if a complaint was made against them in good faith and with good cause.

“This effectively kicks the fourth unrelated person out of the house and onto the street,” Brenson said. “If this person is a student, it is far too late to get on-campus housing at this point. There is no definition offered for ‘in good faith and good cause.’”

Students and community members will have the opportunity to speak again at the Oct. 7 work session meeting. Until then, the discussion of an increase to four persons per rental unit has been set aside. Instead, the commission is looking for a solution to the housing issue that benefits both the community and the students.

“We should send the message to City Council that we don’t want to change occupancy from three to four, but that we should look at alternative options,” commission member Jim Joseph said.

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