Do you see a future for student engagement with the Williamsburg community in the upcoming school year?
Williamsburg Mayor Clyde Haulman: I’ve been on campus for almost 12 years, and I think there’s been a constant effort to work with and improve both communication and interaction between the city, students and the College of William and Mary — the sort of triangle there. And I think the last few years have been some real strides forward. My hope is that this year continues that, and there’s every reason to expect it can, with many very positive things going on. … I think [regarding] the vote last week [to loosen rental regulations on owner-occupied homes] — I think there’s a lot of misinformation about what was really on the table.
On whose behalf? The residents? Students? Both?
I think everybody. Residents in particular were concerned that this was an increase in the number of roomers. In reality, what exists right now and what existed before the vote was that anyone could have a roomer by right. If you wanted to have a second, third or fourth roomer, you had to go to [the Board of Zoning Appeals] for approval. The proposal was that you could have one roomer by right, you could have two, three or four, but the second one would be done by administrative approval, where the third or fourth would be done by BZA approval. So that doesn’t change any numbers at all. The question is: Does doing it by administrative approval make it easier or encourage more or not? I think the idea was that it could. My concern was that as someone who owns a house, if someone has a roomer next door to me, that’s fine. But if they’re going to have two, three or four, I might want to know about it up front, and I might want to have an opportunity to say, “Yeah, I think it’s fine,” or “No, here’s what I think the problems are,” and have that discussion.… So that’s where I’m coming from on it. But the argument that neighbors were making that it would increase the numbers of roomers in neighborhoods is baloney. I mean, people can do it now. They were talking about it as if you were changing the numbers of roomers that people could have. And that wasn’t even part of it. So that was a very frustrating discussion for me personally.
What do you think led to the misinformation among students and residents at the [Williamsburg City Council] meeting? I think there were some residents who were very vocal and shaded their comments in particular ways. Because I talked to a number of people who said, “Don’t increase the number of students or roomers in neighborhoods!” It was primarily aimed at students, but the other thing is, students aren’t the only ones that are roomers in these homes. The people who work for Colonial Williamsburg or the College have done that, so again, what bothered me was the focus was as if students are the only ones who are roomers in these homes. And second, that this was changing the numbers. So I think it just got blown all out of proportion. And it’s unfortunate, but it’s part of the public discourse.
One Williamsburg resident at a recent city council meeting said, “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.”
What do you think that demonstrates about the state of town-gown relations right now?
The focus of the Neighborhood Relations Committee we created my second year was really to help cut through some of the preconceived misconceptions that are out there and really get down to a more reasonable discussion about what’s going on. I live in a neighborhood where two houses down there’s a group of students — they’re terrific, they’ve been there for a number of years, they’re great neighbors to have — and across the street is a two-story apartment building with law students and undergraduates who have been in there for as long as I’ve owned my house for almost 40 years. If you think about it, if you want a neighborhood that’s vibrant with people coming and going and just a mix of different ages and different people, that’s exactly what you want to have. I think the unfortunate timing here is that you have one neighborhood, Indian Springs, where in the last year three houses have been purchased by parents for students. And I think those neighbors are worried about that. And basically, everyone who spoke at that meeting — and probably 90 percent of the people who were there — were from two neighborhoods: Indian Springs and Burns Lane.
In tough economic times, is it possible that student-focused issues will be given less priority?
The false premise in that statement is that it’s as if [student housing issues are] all we’re doing. The city council’s doing a whole lot of stuff, not just that. We are capable of keeping more than one ball in the air at a time. So I don’t buy that argument at all.
Do you think that city council decisions would be implemented differently if there were more student representation at public meetings? Would it change the dynamic in the room?
I think it would change the dynamic of the public discussion. I think all of us try to put ourselves in different constituencies’ shoes as we look at an issue, so I don’t think — I talked to students, I thought about it from lots of perspectives — so I’m not sure having a group of students there talking would have made my decision different. But I think it would have changed the tenor of the discussion. That could be important.