College can lease hotel rooms for students, Planning Commission says

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December 19, 2009

2:47 PM

The Williamsburg Planning Commission voted Wednesday to recommend expanding student access to hotel rooms throughout the City of Williamsburg.

The current ordinance prohibits the renting of hotel rooms for periods exceeding 90 days in hotels and motels outside of the city’s Museum Support district.

In a 6-1 vote, commission members sent a zoning ordinance proposal to the Williamsburg City Council that allows the College of William and Mary to lease hotel rooms in Williamsburg on a semester basis. The College may then sublet those rooms to students in need of housing.

“Whether this is limited to the MS district or is city-wide wherever hotels and motels are allowed, the controlling factor would be how many rooms that the College wants to take on in this program,” Planning Director Reed Nester said. “It would not, as written, allow any College student to go to any hotel or motel and rent a room for the school year.”

Nester said that the College currently offers hotel rooms as housing options to students most in need of housing, especially transfer students and students displaced by emergencies.

“It’s typically used when transfer students come in over the summer or when on-campus housing is unavailable for them,” Nester said.

Nester projected that, out of approximately 4,300 hotel rooms in the city, close to 700 rooms in hotels near the College would be affected, providing hotels with potentially $200,000 in additional revenue.

The proposal met with some opposition from owners of the city’s apartment and rental complexes, however.

“Right now, presently, we are adamantly opposed to the rezoning of any district in order to accommodate any unnecessary housing for the William and Mary population,” Lawson Enterprises property manager Ryan Hunt said.

Hunt said that approving the revised ordinance would place apartment renters in direct competition with publicly supported hotels.

“Not only are hotels and motels receiving tax benefits from the city’s tax assessors, but the city now wants to benefit and aid them in cushioning their bottom line by offering them long-term rentals to a select number of William and Mary students,” Hunt said. “There is no housing shortage in this town, contrary to what the College says.”

Commission member William Kafes also opposed the proposal for its special treatment of the College in hotel rentals.

“I would be inclined to do away with the whole thing,” Kafes said. “I don’t think there should be any inclusion of the College of William and Mary. I don’t see any reason for them to get involved in student rentals when they don’t do it as to all other student rental opportunities.”

The recently revised four-person rule factored into commission member Jim Joseph’s decision to support the proposal.

“The neighborhoods are embracing this opportunity because they feel it’s going to take pressure off single-family rentals,” Joseph said. “Based on what happened last week, they’re worried that’s going to expand.”

Commission members briefly considered altering the proposal to remove the 90-day limit entirely. Nester opposed the consideration, however.

“If you remove the 90-day limit altogether, you’re essentially saying that any hotel can be an apartment complex,” he said.

The commission ultimately approved the proposal to remove any comparative advantage given to hotels in the MS district under the current ordinance. It will now go to the city council for consideration.

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