City Council Approves Hotel-to-Apartments Proposal

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Williamsburg Municipal Building
Williamsburg Municipal Building

Struggling hotels and motels in the City of Williamsburg will get a second chance at success under ordinances approved by the City Council on Thursday.

Council members voted 4-0, with Councilman Doug Pons abstaining, to approve a bundle of four ordinances that will allow hotels and motels in the city to partially transform into apartment units.

Mayor Clyde Haulman said the vote was an important step in addressing the city’s beleaguered housing situation.

“To this point, there’s been a gap, I think, in our comprehensive housing policy,” Haulman said. “This is an important step in helping to close that gap. It’s not going to solve all the problems, but it’s the first time the city has had a definite policy toward meeting a particular segment of the housing needs in this community, and I think that’s why it’s critically important.”

The four approved measures change city ordinances to allow up to 100 hotel rooms in the city to be rezoned for use as apartments by creating a new Planned Development Housing District zoning designation.

The new zoning designation can only be applied to hotels currently located in the B-2 zoning district, which covers mixed office, commercial and residential uses outside the city center. Individual properties would be able to convert no more than 50 rooms to apartments. The 100 rooms would be allocated through a competitive application process handled by city staff.

The ordinances also strengthen limitations on acceptable uses of properties in B-2 corridor commercial zoning — primarily along York Street, Capitol Landing Road and portions of Richmond Road — requiring any conversion to residential uses to coincide with new development or “major redevelopment.”

They also shorten the city’s length-of-stay limits in hotels and motels from 90 consecutive days to 30 consecutive days.

Vice Mayor Paul Freiling said the changes helped address the city’s need for non-permanent, affordable and flexible term housing while protecting the city’s limited commercial land, calling it a “precious” resource.

City Manager Jack Tuttle said about 10 percent of the city is zoned for commercial properties, much of which is undeveloped land along Route 60 at the proposed Quarterpath at Williamsburg development.

“The underlying effort here is to maintain the commercial property we already have in the city,” Freiling said.

The changes approved Thursday came out of the city’s consideration of an October 2014 request by Pons for a special use permit to reconfigure a portion of his Knights Inn hotel into apartments. Pons, proposed turning 60 of the York Street hotel’s rooms into 40 apartment units.

In the initial request, Pons said the hotel’s occupancy had been on a downward trend in recent years. Shifting to apartment units on a temporary basis — lasting five to 10 years — would revive the business, he said, while providing the city with additional housing options.

Pons estimated rents for the units — 35 efficiency units, three one-bedroom units and two two-bedroom units — as ranging from $650 to $1,050.

City staff did not recommend approval of the proposal, but the Williamsburg Planning Commission unanimously recommended adoption of the plan to the City Council in November 2014.

The City Council was more concerned with the effects converting the hotel would have on the city and voted 4-0, with Pons abstaining, to send the proposal back to city staff for additional consideration.

City staff came back in February with a proposal to create a new zoning district for hotels transitioning to apartments, more strictly define acceptable uses for B-2 properties and lowered the city’s hotel and motel length-of-stay limit.

The Planning Commission unanimously recommended the City Council adopt the bundle of changes during its March meeting.

Pons’ SUP request was tabled until July. Deputy Director of Planning Carolyn Murphy said because the original request was made under current regulations, it would be reviewed under those regulations, and would not be affected by the new ordinances.

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