Saturday, December 2, 2023

Econo Lodge gets green light for affordable housing redevelopment

Econo Lodge off Second Street is proposing converting its 48 hotel rooms into 42 “adaptive” housing units. City Council approved their request Thursday. (WYDaily/Courtesy City of Williamsburg)
Econo Lodge off Second Street is proposing converting its 48 hotel rooms into 42 “adaptive” housing units. City Council approved their request Thursday. (WYDaily/Courtesy City of Williamsburg)

A Williamsburg hotel has received City Council’s blessing to redevelop into affordable, adaptive housing off Second Street.

Williamsburg City Council voted 3-1 Thursday, with one member recusing himself, to approve an application to rezone the Econo Lodge property, 216 Parkway Drive.

“I think we need to have this kind of parcel,” Councilman Benming Zhang said.

Councilman Ted Maslin voted against the application because he believes the parking and density proposed was not realistic for the project location.

The rezoning allows the hotel to convert its 48 rooms into 42 “adaptive” housing units. It would include 34 efficiency units and eight one-bedroom units, ranging from $750 to $1,050 per month, depending on the size and layout of the unit and number of people living there.

The Econo Lodge requested to rezone the property to Planned Development Housing District after seeing declining visitation over the years. The rezoning would allow the hotel owner, Bajrang Inc., to redevelop the site into affordable and flexible-term housing.

The PDH district designation gives underperforming hotels an opportunity for redevelopment to gain new life as adaptive housing. The Econo Lodge will join the former Quarterpath Inn as a designated Planned Development Housing District.

It’s the private sector coming forward without tax dollars to fill the need,” Mayor Paul Freiling said.

Councilman Doug Pons recused himself from the vote because he owns the former Quarterpath Inn, now the Flats of Williamsburg, and is the only other property owner in the city with the PDH designation.

With the approval, there can only be eight more PDH-designated housing units in the city. The PDH designation limits the amount of adaptive housing units to 150.

Between the Flats of Williamsburg and the Econo Lodge rezoning, there will be 142 total adaptive housing units in the city.

Public hearing feedback

A handful of speakers voiced opposition for several reasons — one woman calling the project “insanity in our little corridor” — but one subject came up numerous times: parking.

Parkway Townes residents say they already have a shortage of parking at their townhomes, which are adjacent to the Econo Lodge. They use on-street parking on Parkway Drive for overflow.

“I think a lot of the issues at Parkway Townes is because of the way that was designed and built,” Councilwoman Barbara Ramsey said.

Another issue was density of units on the parcel.

Resident Tom Ulrich said he believes having dense housing in an area can also decrease surrounding property values. With the 47.5 units per acre density of the Econo Lodge proposal, some residents voiced concern their property would devalue.

Mark Sholander lives with his wife at Parkway Townes and said the city, James City County and York County have been making plans for the Second Street, Capitol Landing Road and Merrimac Trail without conferring with each other, resulting in an increase in lower-priced rental units and people living in hotels.

Another resident raised concerns about a change in price points from the original rental prices listed in agenda documents.

Bajrang’s attorney Scott Foster said the prices would be $750 to $1,050 per month depending on the unit, but the price was previously listed as $696 to $995 per month in other documents.

Despite some opposition, several people spoke in favor of the project, including an employee of the United Way of the Virginia Peninsula and Billy Scruggs, an area hotelier and business owner.

“Seventy percent of my employees come from Newport News and Hampton,” Scruggs said. “The approval of this application will mean a tiny fraction of what it will take for some of these employees to become neighbors.”

Ramsey also said she believed the demographics of those living at the Econo Lodge adaptive housing has been misconstrued.

“I think there is a great misconception about who will be renting,” Ramsey said, adding that military members could qualify to rent the new units.

New life

Under the PDH designation, the city defines adaptive housing as “primarily efficiency and one-bedroom units with adequate cooking facilities created from all or part of an existing hotel/motel, and used for the purpose of providing non-permanent, affordable and flexible-term housing for individuals and families who may not have access to traditional housing alternatives existing in Williamsburg.”

Williamsburg-area hotels and motels have seen a decline in visitation over the last few decades.

The 2007 hotel motel association report shows the annual occupancy percentage for Williamsburg-area hotels and motels went from 58.9 percent in 1987 to 47.7 percent in 2007.

Data filed with the Econo Lodge’s application shows the hotel, like others in the area, has seen decreased visitation. Occupancy rates for the Econo Lodge were around 24 percent for January through December 2018, according to agenda documents.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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