Students give input to City

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September 23, 2011

1:44 AM

The College of William and Mary Student Assembly presented a series of proposals for the Williamsburg Planning Commission’s 2012 Comprehensive Plan Wednesday in an effort to provide the commission with student input.

The SA’s proposals, presented by Vice President Molly Bulman ’12, Senate Chair Noah Kim ’13 and Undersecretary to Williamsburg Danielle Waltrip ’14, identified increased off-campus housing, construction of student-friendly businesses near campus and improved ease of transportation as the top priorities for the 2012 update to the Comprehensive Plan.

According to the 2010 Census, 14,068 people resided in the City of Williamsburg, and students made up more than half of the population. 8,198 students are currently enrolled at the College, with 6,071 undergraduates and 2,127 graduate students. Of those 8,198 students, 4,620 reside on campus.

“As you know, students can’t exactly fit all the way on campus,” Bulman told the commission. “We just want to make sure that when you continue to zone and make decisions over the next couple years, you’re keeping in mind that students, as well as residents, have other options.”

The SA recommended the construction of mixed use developments, such as the apartments above Aromas or Tribe Square, as well as further developing the Scotland Street neighborhood, which is close to campus and downtown Williamsburg, with residences and student-friendly businesses.

Additionally, as a means of alleviating a backlog of automobiles in Williamsburg, the presentation included a proposal to improve the city’s sidewalks and bike lanes to encourage alternate modes of transportation.

“Forums like this let both sides know that we are aligned in our interests, which we wouldn’t know if we didn’t have these meetings or if they wouldn’t have us make a presentation,” Waltrip said.

The commission has solicited student input since the city began the comprehensive planning process in 1953. The primary mechanism for student input was the Sharpe Community Scholars Program, established in 2001, which helped analyze off-campus housing by creating a website for off-campus housing openings and a student survey for the commission’s use.

While there was widespread agreement on developing businesses close to campus that are affordable with late hours — the success of the Richmond Road Wawa was touted as an example –— increasing off-campus housing was met with less enthusiasm.

“While many college towns have given up on closed-in residential neighborhoods adjacent to campus, Williamsburg should not and must not surrender the character and livability of these valuable and historic neighborhoods,” the 2006 Comprehensive Plan states.

During the commission’s discussion of the SA’s presentation, Second Vice Chair Jim Joseph said that although he has a “good relationship” with students, the Williamsburg government must not have too much student representation.

“We have this phantom going around on campus talking students into running for city council,” Joseph said. “I think the Comprehensive Plan should address the issue of [Williamsburg City Council], not so much that students can’t run, but that it’s not healthy to have a dominating number of one segment of the city.”
Other council members did not see student representation in the council in the same light.

“I haven’t seen a phantom running around campus, but I have seen a Griffin running around campus,” Elaine McBeth, Planning Commission chair and associate director of the Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy, joked in response.

After the presentation, Kim said that the current makeup of the city council — with one member, Scott Foster ’10, widely seen as representing the student population — did not amount to “overrepresentation.”
“Something that Mr. Joseph said was that no group should be overrepresented on the council. The fact of the matter is, students make up half the population of Williamsburg. One out of five is not overrepresentation,” Kim said. “That’s not to say that’s the only way to get our interests across. This is a great way, it’s just — we do make up half the population of Williamsburg. And me, personally, I’d like to see that reflected in the makeup of the government.”

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