This past week, the city fired the latest volley in the ongoing battle against high-occupancy housing. In a series of letters to fraternity members, city zoning officials made clear their intentions to sue any fraternity that attempted to move from the Units to off campus. For now, at least, it appears these were just warning shots across the bow. Even so, they set an ominous tone for what we can expect from town-gown relations in the coming year.
The City’s argument is that Fraternity houses are prohibited in Williamsburg because they are not explicitly provided for in the city’s code. Sure — but neither are book or gardening clubs, which are, of course, safe from fear of lawsuits. And haven’t student organizations been meeting in off-campus houses for years? Selective law enforcement is sketchy, to say the least.
Even for a city administration which has found few darlings in this student body, this stance is questionable. It is not at all clear how exactly the city plans to distinguish between a fraternity house and a house in which a few fraternity members live. Invariably the two types of houses will share many of the same characteristics, particularly parking and socializing patterns. If these warnings do develop teeth in the coming years, the city may force students into meritless yet expensive lawsuits which will probably only inflame tempers on all sides.
The timing here is very unfortunate. Just last week, the College of William and Mary made some major concessions to the city by agreeing to review its alcohol policy and to sanction students for off-campus transgressions, thus showing it is willing to play ball with the city. While it remains to be seen what comes out of the city’s latest efforts to revise the three-person rule, we continue to call on it to focus on behavior — which generally can be remedied with a noise complaint — rather than restricting the number of people living together in a house or the types of ties that bind them.
If the events of this year have proven anything, it is that the College does not create a sustainable and welcoming environment for the male half of its Greek community. The Units are simply too large for this school’s fraternities, but off-campus housing is ripe with its own complications. We again call on the College to bump up fraternity housing on its list of priorities, and to again consider our suggestion to move fraternities into the Jamestown Road office spaces, which could be relocated to the Dillard complex.