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During a meeting Wednesday, the Williamsburg Planning Commission voted to recommend the William and Mary Real Estate Foundation’s proposal to turn a Days Inn into a student dorm, but with several key conditions.
The WMREF agreed to purchase the Days Inn on Richmond Road in August, under the condition Williamsburg’s City Council approve the proposal to use the existing building as a dormitory.
The proposal submitted to the city called for 180 students to live in the building. As a result, the WMREF requested the city amend density requirements for the proposed dorm location. The Commission approved the measure, but determined no more than 80 students could occupy the property.
Several area residents took the opportunity afforded by the public meeting to express their displeasure with the proposal. Opposition centered on the potential behavior of the dorm’s students, including drinking and noisy partying—both inside the complex and along Richmond Road.
“I live on Matoaka Court, and I’ve lived there for about five years now and it is a gem of a neighborhood,” said Harmony Dalgleish, assistant professor of biology at William and Mary. “I think putting a dorm practically on my street is going to destroy that. I think things like partying, noise, random acts of vandalism, parking overflow. Right now these are things that are nuisances. I think putting a dorm practically on my street is going to exacerbate that.”
Dagleish added that if she were a student, she would not feel comfortable living in the dorm, as the doors to rooms open directly to the outside rather than an internal hallway with swipe-only access.
“We also recognize that this is not a perfect solution for anybody,” said WMREF attorney Vernon Geddy during the meeting. “The college is sensitive to concerns from the neighbors…The college will do all it reasonably can to ensure that this facility and its residents are good neighbors.”
Commissioner Jeffrey Klee said he could discern a consensus between the residents and the college on several points, including a need to reduce the oversupply of hotel rooms in the city, the desire to minimize the need for off-campus housing, and recognition of the college’s plan to renovate many of its existing dorms.
Klee then expressed his own concerns with WMREF’s proposal.
“This would be a very high-density parcel. It’s 1.624 acres and the proposal is for 180 students, and that far exceeds what we currently allow in any part of the city,” said commissioner Klee. “This is clearly a very intense use. It doesn’t matter if we’re putting 180 Amish kids in there or 180 college students, this is an intensive use.”
After discussion Klee motioned to recommend the proposal with amendments, which was approved 2-1. Klee and Andrew Edwards voted in favor, while David Julien voted against the motion. Sarah Stafford, Elaine McBeth and Justin Shawler recused themselves from the discussion and vote, and Chair Demetrios Florakis was not present.
A “sunset clause” of 10 years was added to the recommendation, meaning that the special use permit will need to be reapproved after a decade. A security guard was recommended to be on site from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. nightly, and the number of students residing at the parcel was to be capped at 80.
The proposal will appear before City Council for a second public hearing March 9.
“Looking at the project we were anticipating, 180 students, the number they used was 80. That’s a big change,” said Sam Jones, William and Mary’s Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration. “We’ll have to go back and do some analysis. It’ll be challenging. I do a lot of math and it’s hard to get from point A to point B with that number.”
Jones added, “While we do have to work through the conditions, the fact that the Planning Commission is recommending this to the City Council is a positive thing.”