3rd option shows progress

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November 3, 2009

2:03 AM

For too long now a middle ground has eluded the two entrenched positions of the Williamsburg housing debate. But if an idea called the “third option” now before the Williamsburg Planning Commission remains popular, the game may change — at least a little. The third option is a great idea that should be pursued, and to a much greater extent than is suggested in its current conception.

Forward-thinking commission members want to adjust the rules for the commercial district that covers much of Richmond Road to allow four unrelated people to inhabit certain types of mixed-use, multi-family buildings, like apartment complexes with restaurants on the ground floor. The idea is that this plan will foster the same type of growth expected to arise from the planned development near Wawa.

This proposal shatters the zero-sum paradigm of old. Students have long felt that they have a right to fewer housing restrictions, while vocal residents saw any concessions to students as preludes to the degradation of this city’s neighborhoods. Since this proposal targets a commercial district in which there are by definition no neighborhoods, residents have no complaints. For our part, we believe it is clear that changes like these that provide more student-friendly housing near campus will make going to school in Williamsburg much easier in the long run.

But this proposal does not offer enough. It does nothing to take the pressure off of students right now, and its greatest political asset — its limited focus — keeps it from having the effect a real overhaul to the city’s ordinances should have. Under this proposal, all of the rental houses adjacent to campus would be omitted. This is unacceptable.

Going forward, these changes should be accepted along with similar changes to other commercial districts in the city. But although that would be progressive, it would also leave us short of our ultimate goal to repeal the three-person rule altogether. Students need to be more persistent in their efforts to register and vote in Williamsburg, because only when we vote in proportion to our numbers will we ever actually gain the attention we deserve.

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