City Council to vote on luxury student housing

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October 2, 2017

10:46 PM

The Williamsburg City Council will vote on redevelopment plans for the Williamsburg Shopping Center, also known as Midtown Row, including a special use permit for more than 200 student-centered residential units located above ground-floor retail space, Oct. 12.

According to College of William and Mary spokesperson Suzanne Seurattan, nearly 75 percent of undergraduate students live in on-campus housing, with about 1,500 students choosing off-campus arrangements every year.

During a Planning Commission meeting Sept. 20, Broad Street Realty co-founder and CEO Michael Jacoby said more than 50 percent of the proposed apartments would have a four-bedroom, four-bathroom floor plan. The special use permit would allow up to four unrelated individuals to live in the same apartment, a modification to the city’s three-person rule.

A four-bedroom, four-bath is just a very successful living arrangement that our partners have used elsewhere, and we thought that would be a very appropriate type of unit that students would enjoy,” Jacoby said.

“A four-bedroom, four-bath is just a very successful living arrangement that our partners have used elsewhere, and we thought that would be a very appropriate type of unit that students would enjoy,” Jacoby said. “We needed to modify the rules a little bit, and that’s it.”

In addition to the four-bedroom floor plan, other apartments could have one bedroom and one bathroom, two bedrooms and two bathrooms or three bedrooms and three bathrooms.

“This is going to be a great project … closest to school, better amenities than any other housing project that caters to students,” Jacoby said.

Jacoby said that current rent estimates range from $785 per month for a room in a four-bedroom apartment to $1,275 to $1,290 for a single person apartment. Rent would be all-inclusive, encompassing utilities, Wi-Fi, use of a pool and barbecue areas, parking and other amenities.

In comparison, the Griffin Arms Apartments, located about a quarter mile from campus, were built in 2014. The complex holds eight apartments, each with three bedrooms, and according to WMBG Rentals’ website, rent runs between $925 and $1,000 per person.

The King & Queen Apartments are less than a quarter mile from campus. Originally constructed in the 1960s, the two complexes house 26 apartments. According to the King & Queen website, rent ranges from $1,050 to $1,150 per apartment.

“William & Mary has great interest in a thriving Williamsburg, and the Midtown redevelopment will add to the city’s vitality …” Seurattan said in an email. “It’s in the university’s best interest to have quality housing options available near campus for those students.”

Cathy Allport, a Williamsburg resident since 1980, spoke during public comment at the Planning Commission meeting. She said that while likes the the idea of adding student housing, she does not believe this project is the right solution.

“It would be nice to have increased student housing,” Allport said. “I question that students are going to want to live here and that it will ever be filled to the planned capacity.”

Jacoby said that Broad Street Realty settled on marketing Midtown Row’s housing to students for two reasons.

“The comprehensive plan from the City of Williamsburg suggested housing at that location, but also we did our own market studies and felt that it’s a fairly good portion of the student population lives off campus, and a fair amount of them live in homes or older apartments, [so] a first-class student housing project within walking distance of campus would be successful,” Jacoby said.

As an undergraduate, Justin Shawler ’16 VIMS ’18, a member of the City of Williamsburg Planning Commission, lived in on-campus housing to avoid the difficulty of finding off-campus housing. As a graduate student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, he has had to face that difficulty and now lives with his undergraduate roommate in an apartment.

Prior to the Planning Commission’s 4-3 vote on Midtown Row, Shawler said some of his VIMS classmates expressed excitement in their discussions about shopping and possibly living at Midtown Row.

Shawler said he supports Broad Street Realty’s efforts to modify the three-person rule via a special use permit.

What’s good is that most of their money in building the apartments, and the largest percentage of apartments, is going to be building four-bedroom units, which just by the math is going to be the better deal than a lot of other housing options,” Shawler said.

“What’s good is that most of their money in building the apartments, and the largest percentage of apartments, is going to be building four-bedroom units, which just by the math is going to be the better deal than a lot of other housing options,” Shawler said. “I think that allowing those four bedrooms legally is a good thing for students, because most places that they are looking to rent out now, they cannot legally, inside the city at least, have four unrelated people living together.”

However, Shawler said that he does not see much motivation to change the three-person rule citywide at this time.

City Council member Benming Zhang ’16 J.D. ’19 said that he’s received mostly positive feedback from undergraduate students regarding Midtown Row.

“I think that they’re still like, ‘We’ll love it when we see it,’ but the concept is really, really good, and that’s something that I tend to agree with,” Zhang said.

Zhang has received more mixed reviews about Midtown Row from his Marshall-Wythe School of Law peers, mostly based on the height and colors in proposed designs. This concern was echoed by many Williamsburg residents during the Planning Commission meeting.

“One of the surprises with this proposal was that I thought that they were going to do it under a broader umbrella of young professionals, which would include younger faculty members,” Zhang said. “I was a little surprised to see that they were gearing it more specifically and narrowly toward students, but I think that it’s a great thing. … From a neighborhood character standpoint, a lot of residents have spoken to council as a body, before my time, about finding alternative means of housing students so that it would alleviate the pressures from their neighborhoods.”

Zhang said he would ask about the proposed housing’s affordability prior to the vote, especially since focus has changed to student-centered housing.

According to Zhang, an additional concern on Williamsburg residents’ minds is the possibility of Midtown Row turning into another Tribe Square –– the retail space has been empty since The Crust’s eviction Aug. 9.

“Another anxiety is that … it’s only geared toward students, who will sign 12-month leases, but they’re only here for ten months of the year,” Zhang said. “So what happens? Are you just going to have a deserted Midtown? That’s hypothetically, and I don’t actually think that will happen.”

Jacoby said, however, that he sees no similarities between Midtown Row and Tribe Square.

“Because of its location, Tribe Square’s only natural customer was the school,” Jacoby said. “Those businesses that will have to survive there … will have to rely on its traffic.”

Alternatively, Jacoby said that there has been overwhelming interest in leases for Midtown Row retail space, including signed letters of intent for 70,000 square feet already.

Jacoby said he was very confident that the city council would vote to approve the redevelopment project. If approved, the project would begin construction in late 2017 or early 2018.

Student housing would be available beginning August 2019, with about 90 percent of all apartments pre-leased at that time.

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Managing Editor Amelia Lucas '18 is an English and finance double major from Ashburn, VA. She previously served as Assoc. News Editor and News Editor. Follow @thxamelian on Twitter.

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