City Council to decide W&M dorm fate

Contact Reporterwwright@vagazette.com

William and Mary still wants to house 180 students in a converted hotel property on Richmond Road, despite concerns from the city Planning Ccommission.

In a February 15 meeting, the commission passed along the school's request to use the Days Inn as requested, but with just 80 students.

Neighbors have complained that 180 students would be too intense a use for the hotel, which abuts several single-family homes.

The college says that 80 students isn't enough to make the hotel purchase a worthwhile one, and now the City Council is expected to have a final say when it meets Wednesday.

W&M Chief Communications Officer Brian Whitson said the university appreciates support from the city planning satff, but ... "80 students is not viable, and our request remains focused around a project that would support a density of up to 180 students."

The council could accept the Planning Commission's guidance or ignore it.

W&M plans to use the renovated hotel for dorm space because several of the on-campus dorms are due for renovating, putting pressure on the college to find housing for its students while it revamps its buildings.

"The need here is to renovate Landrum Hall," said Vernon Geddy, a lawyer representing the foundation, at a Feb. 15 Planning Commission meeting. The college has other renovations in mind as well, including at the Green and Gold Village residence halls.

While placing its conditions on the college's request, the city's Planning Commission said the amount of students on the hotel property is simply too many.

"This is clearly a very intense use," said Jeffrey Klee, a Colonial Williamsburg architectural historian and planning commissioner. "It doesn't matter if we're putting 180 Amish kids in there or 180 college students, this is an intensive use."

Dozens of residents emailed Carolyn Murphy, the city's director of planning and codes compliance, to voice their concerns. Many more spoke at the most recent Planning Commission meeting.

Joe Hertzler, who lives by the college, said he shares most of their concerns.

"I would say the consensus is that less is more, 80 is better," said Hertzler, a member of the city's Architectural Review Board. "I don't know if that's realistic. I'm sure the college will come back and ask to house 180 students, which I get from an economic standpoint."

Mayor Paul Freiling acknowledged that the situation is complex. Going through the real estate foundation instead of university channels is a noble move by the college, he said.

"To the college's credit, they have chosen the more challenging path of purchasing the property through the W&M Real Estate Foundation," he said. The college could have bought the property and thus exempted it from local regulations, taxes, and public input.

Sam Jones, the college's vice president for finance and administration, said density was an issue he had other high-ranking college employees expected to arise as they proposed the project.

"That was something we'd been hearing in our neighborhood meetings," he said.

The school's viewpoint is that students under their control is better than students dispersed around the community, said Geddy.

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

Want to go the next city council meeting?

Where: 412 N Boundary St, Williamsburg, VA 23185

When: March 9, 2 p.m.

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