City council stops new rental law

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September 13, 2011

2:36 AM

Under pressure from Williamsburg residents, the Williamsburg City Council failed to pass a motion Thursday that would have allowed more people to rent rooms in owner-occupied homes.

The proposal was written to better accommodate students and other residents in single-family neighborhoods by encouraging room rentals in owner-occupied homes, such as bed and breakfasts and detached dwellings, rather than in houses rented to up to three nonrelated individuals.

In a 3-2 vote, and under recommendation from the Williamsburg Planning Commission, the council voted to make no changes to the existing regulations.

Under the current law, parking in owner-occupied homes must be off-street, with one bedroom per roomer by right. Special exceptions can be made to the Board of Zoning Appeals with a maximum of two bedrooms rented to two roomers each. Williamsburg Planning Director Reed Nestor said there have been five exception requests made to the Board of Zoning Appeals since the current regulations for renting rooms were adopted in 1991. Two were denied and three were approved.

The proposal would have allowed on-or off-street parking and room rental to two people with administrative approval, or up to four people with approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Few students showed up to the monthly city council meeting, and Student Assembly Undersecretary to Williamsburg Danielle Waltrip ’14 was the only one to speak in favor of the proposal during the public forum.

“Currently, there are very few affordable housing options in the city,” Waltrip said. “By encouraging the rental of bedrooms in owner-occupied homes, we can build community, improve relations between the Williamsburg community and the College and dispel negative student stereotypes.”

In contrast, Williamsburg residents opposed to changing the current regulations filled most of the seats in the room.

During the at-times heated public forum, Williamsburg residents were particularly concerned that streets would become clogged with cars if the regulations were to allow on-street parking. But one of the most repeatedly voiced objections to the proposal was the idea that it would encourage more students to live off-campus.

“The obvious reason most of the people are here today is because as soon as residents hear the idea of loosening the guidelines for student housing in residential areas, we all get concerned,” Williamsburg resident Debbie Keane said.

Multiple residents cited late-night noise violations, a backlog of cars parked on the street and poorly kept residences when explaining their opposition to having more student neighbors.

But council member Scott Foster ’10 argued that the students who would choose to live in owner-occupied homes would be less likely to adhere to stereotypes of hard-partying college students.

“This is going to attract a different kind of student,” Foster said, drawing sounds of skepticism from the audience.”

Keane also criticized the council for focusing on student housing initiatives when there are other pressing economic issues facing residents.

“Residents are losing their homes to foreclosure, businesses are closing, tourism is at an all-time low, our city schools are on a downward slide, and we’re concentrating time and money on student housing again,” Keane said. “I would really like to see our city council focus a little more effort on our town residents and let the College handle the students.”

“Let’s let the College take care of the College,” Keane said to applause.

Student Assembly Secretary of Public Affairs Meg Schwenzfeier ’14, who also attended the hearing, said that the residents’ opposition to the proposal and the council’s ultimate decision illustrated that students should increase their presence at city forums and meetings.

“If we don’t show up to show the city that we care, it will be a lot harder to promote student-friendly initiatives,” Schwenzfeier said in an email.

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