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The first applicant for a recently created special zoning designation in the City of Williamsburg is the property that spurred its creation.
The Williamsburg Planning Commission reviewed a proposal from Knights Inn owner Doug Pons to rezone a portion of the York Street hotel as Planned Development Housing, a zoning designation created by the city to encourage the development of adaptive housing in Williamsburg.
Pons’ rezoning request would allow 60 of the hotel’s rooms to be repurposed as 47 apartments. With rents projected to range from $650 to $1,050, Pons said the converted apartments would have the dual effect of bringing new residents to the hotel and filling the city’s need for affordable housing.
City staff recommended approval of the proposal, and the Planning Commission unanimously recommended it to the City Council for consideration.
“This type of housing is in dire need in the city,” Planning Commission Chairman Demetrios Florakis said.
The City Council created the PDH zone, in part, to address the dearth of lower- and mid-level rental apartments in Williamsburg. Council members voted 4-0 to approve the creation of the district at their April 9 meeting, Pons, who also serves on the City Council, abstained from the vote.
The ordinances approved by the City Council allow up to 100 hotel rooms across the city to be repurposed as apartments, although no more than 50 can be located on any one property.
Both city staff and council members have pitched the new zone as a way to help struggling hotels in Williamsburg find new life through new residents, and to create a new option for transitional housing in the city.
The creation of the new zone was the culmination of a six-month process that began with Pons’ October request for a special use permit to turn some of his hotel rooms into apartments.
City staff did not recommend the approval of that request. The Planning Commission came out in favor of granting the SUP, but the City Council voted to defer consideration of the request. Council members will visit the issue again at their July meeting.
Citing concerns with the potential loss of commercial property in the city and the character of neighborhoods, the City Council asked staff members to take another look at Pons’ proposal.
Staff members returned with the PDH plan, which would accommodate the Knights Inn and allow for additional hotels in the city to shift to apartments through an application process as well.
Planning Commission member Elaine McBeth questioned whether the approval of the 47 units at the Knights Inn had an expiration date, after which they would revert back to the citywide pool. Pons has proposed a three-phase construction, transforming the 47 units over a period of five years.
Planning Director Reed Nester said the approval of the 47 units would not expire, as it was a legislative action and would require an additional legislative action to change.
McBeth said she questioned giving nearly half of the available stock for the city to one property, but City Attorney Christina Shelton said the City Council could increase the total pool of available units for applicants.
“I think 100 was just a number they were comfortable with initially,” she said.
Florakis praised both Pons’ proposal and the city’s deliberate process in the creation of the PDH district, calling it an “improved” version of the initial plan.
The City Council will consider the request at its May meeting, and could vote on it in June. Pons’ SUP request remains active, but Pons said he would withdraw that application if the PDH plan is approved by the City Council.