In its final work session of the year Wednesday, the Williamsburg Planning Commission recommended a proposal to the Williamsburg City Council that would allow an increase to four unrelated residents per housing unit in the B-3 zoning district.
The proposal, called “Option Three,” limits the proposed increase to multi-family dwellings. Option Three only refers specifically to apartment buildings with a city-approved special use permit. Additionally, any multi-family dwelling would be required to have management control of the building to be eligible for Option Three.
The commission’s decision serves as a compromise between keeping the three-person rule intact and altering it to four people in all circumstances. The B-3 zoning district extends along Richmond Road from Brooks Street to Ironbound Road.
“I am going to rely on option three to be successful,” planning commission member Jim Joseph said. “It is not only going to be an experiment in going from three to four, but it will allow for management control.”
By allowing rentals that are defined as multi-family units to have four people living together, the College of William and Mary will be able to create more diverse student housing options like the proposed “Wawa project.”
“If we did not accept option three, it would stymie the project on Richmond Road, and I would not want to do that,” planning commission chairman Doug Pons said.
Although Option Three does not change the three-person rule to four persons in all circumstances, Student Assembly Undersecretary for Williamsburg Emily Gottschalk-Marconi ’12 believes that its recommendation is an improvement.
“We are pleased to see that they didn’t just stick with Option One, which would be to stick with three people,” Gottschalk-Marconi said. “But I think we are still looking for some more progress.”
Although the SA has lobbied for more extensive changes to the city’s zoning policy, many members of the planning commission do not recognize a need to change the three-person rule.
“There are no homeless students,” Pons said. “Everyone has a place, although it might not be the most optimum. If we create more supply then we will have a demand issue, and that will affect rental rates and the amount the College can charge, which will create a burden on the College. I don’t think that is something we want to see happen.”
According to Gottschalk-Marconi, the demand for off-campus housing may be understated because of the prevalence of three-person violations.
“Essentially, they keep saying that there isn’t a need for extra housing, that we don’t need four students to a house, which I believe to some extent there are beds available,” Gottschalk-Marconi said. “But at the same time, how many kids got bumped last year? How many people do you know that are living within the law?”
SA Undersecretary for Public Affairs David Witkowsky ’11 agreed that the housing situation cannot be remedied by limiting the proposed four-person rule to one zoning district.
“Finding a place to live isn’t the only issue,” Witkowsky said. “It’s also wanting to live in these neighborhoods and these houses that fit more than three people. For a lot of students, it’s not being able to find a place to live that meets their needs, and that’s not really going to change with this proposal.”
Planning commission members said a shift to four persons in all rental units could cause a supply-and-demand issue with students and renters, creating too many housing units for insufficient demand.
“If the students needs are met around the College and we go and create more space available, then we will be attracting a different type of tenant,” Pons said. “I’m not sure that’s the tenant we want to see.”
Some planning commission members favored option one, which would have kept the three-person rule in its original place. However, many recognized the need for compromise, and said Option Three was a prospect for experimentation and creativity.
“Option Three, to me, is an option with a lot of oversight,” planning commission member Elaine McBeth said. “They are still looking at four people in an apartment with requirements. Option three is providing an opportunity to the marketplace that may be used or may not.”
The planning commission will submit the recommendation of Option Three to the city council. The city council’s public hearing will be held Dec. 10 at 2 p.m. in the Stryker Building.
The Planning Commission with meet December 16.