Days Inn conversion to a dorm is not a good plan

Special to the Gazette

The purpose of this letter is to voice my concerns over the College of William and Mary's intent to purchase the Days Inn Motel at 902 Richmond Road and convert it to a student dormitory. They are moving forward with a request to submit an ordinance to amend Williamsburg zoning definitions by adding a definition for "Student Dormitory." This is concurrent with a request for a special permit to convert the motel to a "Student Dormitory."

The reason given for the college's request is the need to vacate and refurbish one dormitory at a time in order to eventually update all of them. I understand that has to be done. What I don't understand is why putting 180 students in this building is a good solution. This motel is in a residential neighborhood and is next to a grade school. Think on the implications of that while I ask, how was this issue handled in the past?

Certainly the dorms have been refurbished multiple times over the years. However it was handled before, why would the past solution(s) not work today? If this is a recurring problem, then why hasn't the college developed a permanent solution long ago? They possess both the land and the resources.

I am a resident who lives near the motel. Adding a concentration of 180 young adults to a residential neighborhood with a grade school next door is not a well-thought-out solution. These students would be in addition those already living in rentals in the neighborhood.

One only needs to think of the challenges of two distinct lifestyles living in very close proximity to each other. On the one hand you have a high energy, excitable, young population and on the other hand you have more sedate residents raising families, working jobs and paying city taxes.

Consider the likelihood of increased noise at all hours, the added vehicular traffic of about 100 cars trying to enter and exit the motel into a very busy primary traffic corridor (Richmond Road) and the guarantee of more accidents, the increased parking problems in an already stressed area and the likely increased instances of trespassing, vandalism, and other violations in surrounding neighborhoods.

Consider the potential adverse impact on property values as residents get fed up and move out. Again, converting this motel to a dormitory is not a good solution from a resident's perspective.

Let's try to look at this from a student perspective: The Days Inn is your standard 1950/60's era drive-up economy motel construction. Vehicles are parked within feet of beds in the rooms on the first floor. Students on the first and second floor for that matter, will hear car doors slamming and vehicles coming and going all hours of the day, every day.

All room doors open to the outside affording anyone the opportunity to try to enter a room undetected. Motels of this type are constructed of steel and concrete which easily transmits noise and vibrations to nearby above and below rooms. Typically the walls and ceilings of this type motel have minimal to no sound deadening ability. Then there are those students unlucky enough to have rooms next to the stairwells – talk about noise!

How about the second floor balcony which will serve as a gathering place for students? The possibility of people launching over the second floor balcony should be a major concern. What about the increased distance to key facilities at the college such as the library and student dining hall? What about emergency vehicle access into a crowded, narrow parking lot? I could go on.

Having traveled around the country for 40 years on behalf of the federal government I have spent a lot of time in motels very much like this one. I can say from experience that they are constructed for a transient population and they serve that purpose well.

By the way, has the college surveyed the students (or parents) and gathered their input on this particular matter? If so, I'd be interested in knowing what they think.

College plans to mitigate the impact of this student concentration in a residential neighborhood fall short. For example, the proposed erection of a 6 foot tall wooden fence around the property will do nothing to deaden noise coming from the facility. The proposed placement of a metal fence and sliding security gates across the front will give the facility a look akin to a government facility or a minimal security prison — along a main tourist thoroughfare. I don't believe this supports the image the city wants to project.

It is clear I am not in favor of converting this motel into a student dormitory.

There has to be a better solution that doesn't jeopardize the residential lifestyle and property values of the neighborhood and provides the students a safer and more secure living arrangement. I realize the college is bringing this matter before the Feb. 15 City Planning Commission and then to the City Council for a decision. If approved, it appears to me the only one to benefit is the college and not the residents nor the students.

If this effort to add a zoning definition and to issue a Special Permit is successful, it sets a precedent for other neighborhoods around the college that can now be looked on as resources to solve a college problem. I have heard the term "College Creep" used to describe what some see happening here and in other neighborhoods.

I am all for doing what I can to be a good neighbor and support the college in its efforts to provide a vibrant learning environment, but it is a two way street. The college is not being a good neighbor in the way it is handling this situation. It would have gone a long way if, early on, residents had been brought in, informed of the problem and worked together with the college to come to a better solution.

Lastly I encourage you to look at the many letters to the Planning Commission submitted by my neighbors that are attached to the online agenda for Wednesday's meeting. You will see there are many valid concerns, concerns that could someday be yours.

Fall lives in Williamsburg.

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