City mayor talks town and gown relations with students
November 13, 2009
Williamsburg Mayor Jeanne Zeidler M.A. ’76 visited the College of William and Mary Wednesday evening to answer students’ questions on town-gown relations. It was the fifth segment of the “Better Know Your City Council Member” program, sponsored by Students for a Better Williamsburg, a non-partisan political action committee. Zeidler spoke to approximately 35 students at the question-and-answer session.
Most of the questions concerned the city’s enforcement of potential changes to the three-person rule, which was enacted by the city in 1991. While she was open to any future amendments proposed by the Williamsburg Planning Commission, Zeidler had firm views on the legality of the rule.
“We can’t just ignore the law that we have,” she said. “We can’t do that, particularly when other citizens registered complaints and produced evidence.”
Earlier this year, the city pressed charges against the student residents of 711 Richmond Rd. in response to evidence provided by neighbors indicating that the students were in violation of the three-person rule. The charges were eventually dropped. Members of the audience questioned the forcefulness of the charges, but
Zeidler believes that the city has to consider all parties.
“There are people in the city who believe that the three-person rule is absolutely necessary to protect single-family neighborhoods,” she said. “So it takes a lot of discussion and a lot of understanding to get to a place, hopefully, where we can find flexibility in this bill.”
Zeidler also said the three-person rule is not unique to Williamsburg.
When allegations were brought forth by an audience member concerning the continued charges by the city against the owners of 711 Richmond Rd., Zeidler deferred to the discretion of the appropriate city administrator.
“I don’t micromanage the city attorney or any other city employee,” she said. “The city council sets policy.”
While members of the city council have met with College administrators and student leaders to address the problem, discussion on the controversial rule has persisted for many years.
“It’s an incremental process. It can’t just go away. It can’t just be changed overnight,” she said. “You have to take everyone’s points of view into consideration.”
Zeidler became involved in local Williamsburg government after joining the Matthew Whaley Elementary School PTA. She then moved onto the Williamsburg County School Board and involved herself with local museum and cultural institutions. In 1998, she became the first female mayor of Williamsburg.
During her tenure, the city has expanded its bus system and the Williamsburg Farmers Market on Merchants Square. The city council has also introduced inspections of many dilapidated rental properties during
Zeidler’s career as mayor. While some students see this as a problematic ordinance, Zeidler says it was designed in the interest and safety of students. In her view, rental properties have now become the sticking point in town-gown relations.
“Williamsburg has always been a college town,” she said. “I think what has elevated the situation were several neighborhoods becoming more than 50 percent rental, so people began to fear for the quality of life in their neighborhoods.”
Zeidler also believes there are concerns that campus and city community members share. The High Street shopping center on Richmond Road, which could provide retail and entertainment venues for students, remains mostly vacant.
“We talk about quote ‘student-oriented businesses.’ I think they’re community-oriented,” she said. “Many people who live in the city want those very same kinds of businesses. They want more coffee shops and bookshops.”
While the city council meets several times a year with Student Assembly leadership, Zeidler wants more student involvement in local government. She urges students to apply to be members on city and board commissions.
In addition to her long career in city government, Zeidler feels closely connected to the College’s concerns.
Her husband, Edward P. Crapol, was a history professor at the College for 37 years, and several of her children and one grandchild have also attended the College.
“My husband said our family bleeds green and gold,” she said.