Hope for the homeless: Motel owner proposes second renovation to add more affordable housing

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Quarterpath Inn owner Doug Pons stands in front of the motel in December. (Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)
Quarterpath Inn owner Doug Pons stands in front of the motel in December. (Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)

City Councilman and motel owner Doug Pons knows there is a pressing need for more affordable housing in the greater Williamsburg area.

While Williamsburg is a popular vacation destination with its rolling golf courses, resorts and resounding Colonial history, the area also has hundreds of individuals living through poverty and homelessness.

Recognizing the need, Pons has submitted an application to the Williamsburg Planning Commission to renovate 68 motel rooms at his hotel, the Quarterpath Inn, into 39 studio, 12 one-bedroom and two two-bedroom apartments.

The proposed renovation comes on the heels of an earlier renovation at the Quarterpath Inn on York Street in 2016, which converted 60 motel rooms in 47 studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments. The proposed second-phase would eliminate the remaining motel rooms.

“I think there’s a need in every community,” Pons said of affordable housing. “Our community is not unique in having a need here. But I think we are a service industry town…so there are a lot of people in the area who need affordable housing.”

According to 2014 data from the U.S. Census Bureau – the most recent data available – 20.1 percent of residents in Williamsburg are living in poverty, a substantially greater percentage than the U.S. poverty rate of 13.5 percent.

Williamsburg’s poverty rate is also almost double Virginia’s rate of at 11.5 percent of the population. The amount of resident college students with low incomes may slightly inflate Williamsburg’s poverty rate, but the rate is still undeniably higher than other localities in the state.

The poverty rate and abundance of seasonal and low-income jobs in Williamsburg creates a stark need for affordable housing – something Pons agrees is desperately needed.

Rents at the new apartments are proposed to range from $695.00 to $1,125.00, depending on the unit, according to the Planning Commission application. The rent will include all utilities except electricity.

According to the application, “each apartment home offers ideal cooking facilities with an updated modern kitchen with full-size refrigerators, ranges, microwave ovens and a surprising amount of cabinet and countertop space.”

A photo of an apartment at the Quarterpath Inn taken in March 2016. (Courtesy Nicole Trifone/WYDaily)
A photo of an apartment at the Quarterpath Inn taken in March 2016. (WYDaily file photo)

Based on the first renovation at the Quarterpath Inn, Pons estimates each apartment will cost about $20,000 to renovate. At 53 units, the renovation is expected to cost “well over a million dollars,” he said.

The renovations will include rewiring all rooms and turning the main office into a lounge and exercise room.

The hotel, built in 1972, has experienced diminishing visitors over the past 35 years, the application states. In general, 46 percent of Williamsburg’s hotels fell below 50 percent occupancy between January and December 2016, according to data included in the application.

For Pons, renovating the motel into an apartment complex is satisfying as both a private business owner and an elected official.

In about two decades of service on various boards, commissions and councils, Pons has seen a lot of information about needs in the greater Williamsburg area.

Meet the needs of community

As a businessman, Pons has also seen declining visitation at the Quarterpath Inn and a shift in tourists’ expectations for lodging, he said. He has also seen a lot of people who are “weeklies,” who move from hotel to hotel because they are unable to find permanent housing.

“You put that all together and I recognized there was an opportunity for me to repurpose the building and give it new life in a way that not only was a smart business decision, but also met the needs of the community,” Pons said.

Since almost half of the Quarterpath Inn was renovated, the apartments have “filled rapidly,” documents state. The housing section of the motel was renamed “The Flats of Williamsburg” after the renovation.

“This is due to the limited supply of affordable housing in Williamsburg,” the application says.

Several people without homes on Christmas will stay overnight at the Quarterpath Inn on Christmas Eve. (Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)
The owner of the Quarterpath Inn has proposed turning a second half of the motel rooms into affordable housing apartments. (Sarah Fearing/WYDaily)

Pons added that the apartments have seen “great success” and have had positive feedback from tenants, nearby communities and the property’s neighbors.

“People see the value in the upgrades we’ve done,” he said.

Current residents of The Flats of Williamsburg are those with low income, seniors, employees of local accommodation and food services.

“Our residents are gainfully employed, supporting the local economy by filling jobs and by spending locally,” the application stated. “We have found that [their] work ranges from entry level jobs to management, skilled and un-skilled labor, and construction trades to museum interpreters.”

According to Planning Commission documents, the zoning ordinance for the hotel property would need to be amended to accommodate more housing at the location.

A public hearing on the application will be held April 19 at the Planning Commission’s regular monthly meeting. The meeting is at 3:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers of the Stryker Center, located at 412 North Boundary Street.

Pons confirmed he will abstain from any City Council vote on his project application.

Fearing can be reached at sarah.f@localvoicemedia.com.