Residents: W&M motel purchase is bad for neighborhood

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com
College wants to turn motel into student housing, city residents unhappy

The College of William and Mary has plans to change a Richmond Road motel into housing for some of its students. But people who live in the area say the idea will compromise their neighborhoods and could be a logistical nightmare.

In August, the William and Mary Real Estate Foundation — a private nonprofit group that moves in lockstep with the college — agreed to buy the former Days Inn for just over $3 million.

"They have always been pretty aggressive in looking for pieces of property that would benefit the university," said Joe Hertzler, a Williamsburg resident who sits on the city's Architectural Review Board.

According to a city staff memo, the foundation wants to lease the motel to the college, which plans to convert the Days Inn to student housing. It would house 180 students.

"The immediate reason for the purchase of the Days Inn stems from the planned renovation of Landrum Hall (which houses 225 students) during the 2017-18 academic year, followed by 'Green and Gold Village' and Botetourt Complex among others," the memo states.

Hertzler said he remembered the school handling another project — revamping Zable Stadium — quite differently.

"Back when they were renovating the stadium, I was initially concerned, but that was when the college really started to win me over," he said. "They really kept us abreast of the process as it was ongoing, and it looks really nice now."

This time around is different: Hertzler thought the process from buying the motel to pushing it through city channels has been faster than usual, and that troubles him.

"It's been a little too fast," he said. "Usually they are a little more deliberate about this stuff, but they are moving quickly, and I think they realize that. It's why they postponed a month before." Foundation officials originally planned to come before the commission in January.

At a meeting on Feb. 15, representatives from the foundation will ask that the city's Planning Commission rezone the area where the motel is so it can be used as student housing. The property is currently zoned in the Limited Business Neighborhood District, LB-2, which does not allow for student housing.

"They wanted more time to get more information," said Carolyn Murphy, the director of planning and codes compliance for the city of Williamsburg, in January.

Located at 902 Richmond Road, the motel has 102 guest rooms, 102 parking spaces and would hold up to 180 non-freshman students, according to a memo from the city to its planning commission.

Concerned neighbors

For city resident Ron Thompson, the motel is a precarious place from the perspective of people living in the surrounding neighborhoods.

"There are some real concerns about foot traffic," said Ron Thompson, who has lived near the college for 15 years. "When all those students go to party, where are they going to go? Are they going to go into the streets?"

After the purchase in August, Sam Jones, the college's senior vice president for finance and administration, said the project was attractive to the college because it could get more students into university housing.

The property is close several city neighborhoods. A memo from city staff acknowledged those living near the motel will have a different experience than they are used to.

"Neighborhoods adjacent to the site will see an increase in the number of students, walking, biking and driving to campus," the memo says. "An increase in noise and trash will be associated with an additional 180 students in this corridor. However, conditions can be placed on the property to help mitigate these concerns."

In the same memo, the foundation said the college is moving forward with the idea that a university police officer would be assigned directly to the Days Inn and to ensure students follow the relevant laws there.

"You'll be able to hear the difference," Hertzler said. "I can't see how it's a win-win at all. What would be ideal is if the agreements benefited the college and the city's neighborhoods."

Tight parking is another concern, Thompson said.

"If you've been around that building, you can see it isn't meant for 180 people," he said. "Where are their friends going to go? Where are their parents going to go? All other parking in that area is private, or it's decal-controlled."

Williamsburg resident Braxton Allport lives on Matoaka Court and can remember how much damage college-aged partygoers did to the neighborhood in previous years.

"They partied in the street, moving up and down to see friends," he said in an email to city staff. "Were there are many as 180? I am not sure, but there were enough that no one got any sleep."

Ram Ganeshan is a business professor at the college who lives in the College Terrace neighborhood.

In an email to Carolyn Murphy, the city's director of planning and codes, he said the city should address other initiatives that he considered more pressing.

"Rejuvenating the Williamsburg Shopping Center, expanding and developing the Arts District, and attracting business that increase the vibrancy of the town and its neighborhoods should be priorities, not a dormitory," he said.

Thompson noted that some of the concerns, like students activity on weekends, can and should be addressed in by the city and college.

"Some of these concerns can be alleviated," Ron Thompson said. "We just haven't seen the school move on any of them yet. They and the city don't seem to be quite on the same page."

Wright can be reached by phone at 757-345-2343.

Copyright © 2017, The Virginia Gazette
86°