‘Sea of plastic cups,’ City residents criticize W&M plan to move dorm to Midtown

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The two-story Days Inn, owned by Jalaram of Williamsburg, Inc., is approximately 38,600 square feet (plus a 3,800-square-foot basement) and sits on 1.609 acres. (Stephen Salpukas/W&M)
The two-story Days Inn, owned by Jalaram of Williamsburg, Inc., is approximately 38,600 square feet (plus a 3,800-square-foot basement) and sits on 1.609 acres. (Stephen Salpukas/W&M)

An upcoming decision by the City of Williamsburg could place up to 180 William and Mary students into a new dormitory just south of Midtown. 

Williamsburg’s Planning Commission will host a public hearing Wednesday before voting on whether to recommend the William and Mary Real Estate Foundation’s proposal to redesign a Days Inn on Richmond Road into a dormitory.  

Meeting documents include 40 pages worth of emails from city residents, who live adjacent to or near the Days Inn, voicing their concerns and disapproval of the building’s proposed use for student living. 

“We believe this property is poorly located for a student dormitory, and it would create serious negative impact on the adjacent and nearby single family residential properties,” wrote Matoaka Court residents Neil and Mary Ellwein in an email to the City’s Planning Commission.

The WMREF agreed to purchase the Days Inn for $3.05 million in August, contingent upon receiving a special use permit from the city to allow the building to be used for student housing.  The area is currently zoned Limited Business by the city, and WMREF requests amending the lot area and density requirement of the zoning district. The WMREF’s proposal also requests permitting student dormitories inside the Limited Business district, in order to allow for the application of a special use permit on the property.

The college plans to use the property to house up to 180 students. The former Days Inn abuts several private homes along Richmond Road, Motoaka Court and College Terrace.

The City of Williamsburg Planning Commission has released renovation plans for proposed William & Mary student dorms at the Days Inn on Richmond Road. (Courtesy City of Williamsburg Planning Commission)
The City of Williamsburg Planning Commission has released renovation plans for proposed William & Mary student dorms at the Days Inn on Richmond Road. Here is an overhead map of where the proposed dorm fits in relation to neighboring residents.  (Courtesy City of Williamsburg Planning Commission)

“Historically, student lifestyles conflict with permanent resident lifestyles, so the impact will be much greater than minimal,” wrote Dennis Kiser, a resident of Matoaka Court.  “The applicant has addressed some of the concerns about on site management, however I am concerned about the offsite impact; the amount of vehicular traffic, foot traffic, guests, and the noise generated by the increased traffic. And when you consider lifestyle, the time the noise will occur is the major issue. The applicant has failed to address this.”

Sam Jones, William and Mary’s Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration, said the college organized a meeting with local residents in order to keep them informed and hear their concerns.

“They were concerned about noise bleed,” Jones said. “We had a chance to talk with them. Not everybody agreed it was a good idea. We had a good airing of what we’re trying to do to mitigate impacts.”

The plan submitted by the WMREF indicates that they will request “the maximum permissible fence height” in order to diminish the noise that reaches neighboring properties.

The college said it is committed to having 75 percent of its undergraduates housed in university-operated facilities, according to the applicant’s statement included in meeting documents.  Through its residence halls, the college provides 4,669 beds to its students.

In meeting documents, the WMREF stated that the use of the Days Inn building as a dormitory is needed to account for the renovation of Landrum Hall– which houses 225 students– during the 2017-18 school year.

“By adding this new property and its new rooms, that actually prevents students from going outside of our housing system,” Jones said. “If we didn’t have something to replace it those 225 students are going to need a place to live. They’ll start looking outside. While I understand their concerns about noise and traffic, we tried to be smart and prevent students from looking at individual rental houses. If the houses go away from being single-family, that’s not good for the neighbors either.”

The City of Williamsburg Planning Commission has released renovation plans for proposed William & Mary student dorms at the Days Inn on Richmond Road. (City of Williamsburg Planning Commission)
The City of Williamsburg Planning Commission has released renovation plans for proposed William & Mary student dorms at the Days Inn on Richmond Road. (City of Williamsburg Planning Commission)

According to the applicant’s statement, renovations to Landrum Hall will be followed by renovations to the “Green and Gold Village” and Botetourt Complex in future years.

While many of the residents acknowledged the need for additional student housing in their emails to the city, they each contended that the Days Inn property is a less-than-ideal location for a dorm.

“The flow of people and cars can be entertaining and lively — except on weekend nights, when students and alcohol intoxication seem to be the predominant theme,” Resident Ruth Kaiser wrote of current student residences. She said she lives on Richmond Road, barely a block from the Days Inn. “The shouting and howling can be intolerable. The screeching of tires is equally so. The sirens of the EMS vehicles can be constant. And, on Sunday mornings, the sea of plastic cups, food, wrappers from the WaWa and empty bottles extend for blocks. When I go out to pick up my newspaper from the front steps, I inevitably bring back a handful of trash.”

The college will staff the proposed dorm with five Residents Assistants and one Head Resident, according to the applicant’s statement. The RAs will rotate nightly staff duties between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m.

“If it does get noisy, then we’ve got people there, and it’s their responsibility to step in and quiet it down,” said Jones. “Our students are college students, but they’re pretty well-behaved college students. The students that live at the Days Inn will be under all the same rules as a student on campus.”

William and Mary Police will also assign one officer to the new residence hall. The officer will be responsible for holding students accountable for illegal behavior, monitor resident’s activities, and address any community member concerns.

Residents also voiced worries about a potential lack of parking near the dorm. The plan submitted by WMREF calls for 180 students living in the new dorm, but only 100 parking spaces.

“We’re looking at making sure there is as much parking as we can get on site,” Jones said. “We’re trying to maintain as much parking as we can so the students who do have vehicles have a place to park them and don’t go to the neighborhoods.”

Jones said that bike racks will be installed, as “if you have a bike you don’t need a car.” He added that street parking around the Days Inn is permit only, which should help deter students and their visitors from taking spots reserved for residents.

There are three Williamsburg Area Transit Authority stops between Zable Stadium and the Williamsburg Shopping Center. The applicant’s statement indicates that the college may consider sharing expenses for a WATA stop on college-owned property at the corner of Richmond Road and Matoaka.

“The concern we all need to watch is the late-night, weekend activity. If it’s going to be disruptive, that’s probably when it’s going to be,” Jones said. “As we go into this, we’ll be watching that very carefully. And if we need to make some changes to makes sure we have a stronger presence, we’ll find ways to deal with it.”