City initiates forum to ease relationship

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September 2, 2010

11:05 PM

The City of Williamsburg’s Neighborhood Relations Committee held its inaugural community forum Monday at the Williamsburg Community Center.

Founded in 2009, the goal of the NRC is to improve town-gown relations between the city and the College of William and Mary.

Mayor Clyde Haulman and College President Taylor Reveley delivered opening remarks at Monday’s meeting.

“The city will do all in its power to see that this partnership succeeds and prospers,” Haulman said.

A standing-room-only crowd of residents attended the forum, which focused on the College’s future role in the community.

“[The turnout is] testament to the level of community involvement,” Haulman said.

Since its creation in 2009, the NRC has worked to avoid repeating past problems experienced between Williamsburg residents and College students.

“We’ve been meeting every month since spring,” Carolyn Murphy, a city representative on the NRC, said.
Several of the attendees to Monday’s forum spoke on community concerns, including late-night noise, litter and parking issues. Reveley directed the blame not at students, but at unconcerned property owners within the community.

“There are five players in this game,” Reveley said. “The hardest group to reach will be the landlords who don’t care.”

The other groups on which Reveley focused included the College, the city, neighbors and students. However, Reveley said that landlords appeared to be at the heart of the community’s housing issue.

In the spring, the three-person rule, a housing ordinance that limits three unrelated persons to sharing a property, was increased to allow a fourth person in certain cases. Conditions for a fourth person include space of at least 2,000-square feet, parking room for four and submission to occasional city inspections. Since the ordinance’s change, only six properties have received approval.

Reveley said that he hoped the committee would resolve many of these issues.

“This is a vehicle we need to breathe life into,” he said. “It can be a powerful tool.”
Haulman also said that the committee could be used to mend relations between students, Williamsburg residents and the College’s administration.

“We are on the right track, and both the city and College are committed to this in the future,” Haulman said.
The committee developed out of the city’s earlier focus group on the three-person rule. It’s members currently include landlord representative Al Albert, College representative Chon Glover M.Ed. ’90 Ed.D. ’99, student representative Emily Gottschalk-Marconi ’12, Murphy as a city representative and neighborhood representative Bill Talley.

Some Williamsburg residents voiced frustration at the meeting, particularly at parking problems created by the College and students. Several attendees complained that students were parking on neighborhood streets without receiving stickers from the city. Reveley was unable to offer a concrete solution for these issues.

“We have a parking problem, and there’s no easy answer to it,” Reveley said. “The answer to parking is to say students can’t have cars. I’m not sure I want to take that on.”

Another common complaint Monday evening was students’ use of alcohol off campus. Although Reveley did not present a solution to this problem, he did comment on the national drinking age.

“It’s nonsense,” Reveley said. “[Students are] old enough to fight and die for their country, [but] they’re not old enough to drink.”

Reveley said the College would work to diminish the number of so-called problem houses in the community, which illicit complaints from neighbors. Plans are underway to create the new Tribe Square mixed-use development near Wawa on Richmond Road. Additionally, the College is exploring sites for the possible construction of a new dorm that could house 200 students.

Currently, nearly 75 percent of undergraduate students live on campus, and that number is expected to increase in the future.

“I’d love to see it be more than 75 percent,” Reveley said.

For now, Reveley suggested Williamsburg residents consult their student neighbors, rather than immediately turn to the city police.

“I can’t believe we can’t bring reason to those situations,” he said.

Despite some Williamsburg residents’ disagreements with their student neighbors, several attendees Monday night offered high praise for the College’s young men and women. Reveley said that the committee’s work could help foster those positive relationships.

Haulman said that for the entire city to benefit, all parties must be involved in the conversations facilitated by the committee.

“All five of us have to pull our oars if we are going to make progress,” he said.

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