Possible changes to the three-person rule dominated yesterday’s Williamsburg City Council meeting. After discussion and public comments, the Council unanimously voted to send the proposal to the Planning Commission for consideration.
The proposal was developed by city representatives and members of the College of William and Mary Student Assembly. It would allow four unrelated persons to live in a unit together if the unit has more than 1,200 square feet and four parking spaces, among other requirements.
Council members instructed Williamsburg City Attorney Joseph Phillips to compose a draft ordinance to give Council members, students and citizens an idea of the potential revisions.
The Council also called on staff to look into forming a focus group composed of students at the College, residents of Williamsburg and others to gauge community reaction to the possible revisions and to gather input on what the revisions should be.
Williamsburg Mayor Jeanne Zeidler said the Planning Commission’s study would bring community concerns about housing into the open.
“[We’re] voting whether to study [revising the current ordinance] and to start a conversation,” Zeidler said. “For me, this is a needed dialogue in our community.”
Vice Mayor Clyde Haulman commented on the apprehensions held by many residents of Williamsburg on changing the three-person rule.
“[Williamsburg] is a college town with one of the greatest living history museums in the country, and it’s all surrounded by residential neighborhoods,” Haulman said. “Neighborhoods think [by changing the three-person rule], their communities are being destroyed … [while] students feel discriminated against.”
Haulman said that the real issue is not the number of people living in a rented house, but the behavior of those residents and their guests.
The main concern of Council members was the possibility of large parties at off-campus residences.
“Every neighborhood has experienced this: students shouting and cursing. Drunks vomiting and urinating at all hours. What’s the College’s response? ‘The Drunk Van,’” Haulman said referencing Steer Clear, a student-run program that drives students around Williamsburg onweekends — “This is unacceptable.”
Zeidler praised College President Taylor Reveley and the SA for willing to work with the city to try to address these concerns.
Several City Council members criticized the College administration’s absence from earlier conversations in the community regarding off-campus student housing.
According to Haulman, some students are forced to live off-campus due to the lack of housing at the College, but wish to remain close to campus for its atmosphere. He maintains that the large numbers of single-family homes near the College, however, are not appropriate for “boarding houses.”
“The College turns a blind eye [to these problems],” Haulman said. “Negative externalities happen when large numbers of students live around the College.”
Council member Paul Freiling ’83 said he was pleased with the community conversation. Freiling mentioned an earlier housing controversy involving SA Sen. Matt Beato ’09 as an example of the three-person rule working against the community.
“A student wanted to live in and be a productive member of the community, maybe going on to greater things, but [he] lived in violation of the three-person rule,” Freiling said. “[This situation] puts a face on it and it’s easier to see how students perceive it as discrimination.”
After the motion was approved, several Williamsburg residents spoke on the proposal, most agreeing that a dialogue was necessary.
The proposal has been directed to the Williamsburg Planning Commission, who will review it and make a recommendation to the Council. A focus group will be formed in the coming weeks and will give the Council community input. Both reports are expected by February of next year.