3-person rule to stay in city proposal

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October 16, 2009

3:21 AM

As part of a continued debate, the Williamsburg Planning Commission discussed amendments to a proposal regarding the three-person rule Oct. 7. The session provided an opportunity for students and members of the community to voice their opinions while listening to the planning commission’s thoughts.

At the conclusion of the Sept. 23 work session, planning commission members reached a consensus to delete all provisions that had altered the three-person rule to a four-person rule.

The revised proposal, discussed on Oct. 7, includes revisions to the definitions of “family” and “bedroom”
but does not mention changing occupancy of unrelated persons in a rental unit from three to four.

“The current three-person rule is not effective in the City of Williamsburg,” Student Assembly Undersecretary for Public Affairs Dave Witkowsky ’11 said. “In fact, the document in front of you doesn’t change much except for language.”

Head of Students for a Better Williamsburg Josh Karp ’11 agreed that without a change from a three-person to a four-person rule, the proposal will not solve the housing problems many students face when living off campus.

“The new proposal strikes me as a little thin,” Karp said. “I don’t think it really addresses the issue submitted to the planning commission. Without the fourth person material, I don’t think that any legislation decided on here or in the near future is going to satisfy students.”

Several members of the planning commission stressed the importance of protecting the quality of the neighborhoods throughout the city. planning commission chairman Doug Pons said that it is not necessarily student behavior that is stopping the commission from adopting a four-person rule.

“It really has nothing to do with who you are as a group or as individuals,” Pons said. “We are looking at protecting our single-family homes. We are not trying to suppress you in any way.”

If the three-person rule changed to a four-person rule, many members of the planning commission believe it would cause harm to the city as a whole, creating higher population densities which would increase traffic and possibly lead to the deterioration of family neighborhoods.

“We are trying to take an entire community view,” planning commission member Greg Ballentine said. “We are taking a look at this entire city and the effects the proposal will have on it. We need to accommodate everyone’s needs. One of the key elements here is preserving the neighborhoods.”

Planning commission member Joseph Hertzer went so far as to recommend reducing the number of occupants from three to two.

“We are committed to these residential neighborhoods, and we are going to do everything it takes to keep them intact. Going to the four-person rule is just taking the opposite stance,” he said. “I would even like to say while we are having this discussion, why don’t we put the option out there of going to two people?”

Community members voiced concerns regarding an increase in population density, specifically regarding increased traffic due to more residents per unit.

“There are 40,000 cars a week that travel along Longville Road,” Williamsburg resident Sharon Baker said.
“My concern is that High Street is one of the places that would be re-zoned. Considering adding a fourth car would increase traffic in adjacent neighborhoods like mine.”

Another Williamsburg resident, Terrance Wehle, believes that the efforts of the planning commission attempt to solve a problem that is not necessarily their concern.

“We are looking for ways to build dormitories in the city of Williamsburg,” Wehle said. “My concern is that we are trying to re-zone an entire area for a problem that is not the city’s.”

The planning commission recognized that the city has a diverse population. Williamsburg is a city that must balance the needs of the residents at large with a number of college students.

“For the first time, we are seeing efforts by many people to resolve the student problem,” planning commission member Jim Joseph said. “We know that changing the three-person rule to the four-person rule is not going to solve that problem. We need to put an emphasis now on trying to find alternative solutions [to the problem].”

While the planning commission and residents recognized that there is a problem regarding available off-campus housing for students, students themselves believe that more can be done to fix the problem without harming the city.

“We have listened and responded accordingly,” SA Undersecretary for Williamsburg Emily Gottschalk-Marconi ’12 said. “The framework for a four-person rule is already in place. It isn’t enough to just listen to the speakers before you. I would like to remind you that you are representing a diverse group of people.”

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