Williamsburg soon could budge on the three-person rule, a 17-year-old zoning ordinance that has caused tension between students and the city.
City leaders and members of the College of William and Mary Student Assembly have been meeting privately for about six weeks, hashing out the details of a potential amendment to the three-person rule, which allows no more than three unrelated people to live together in a Williamsburg home. A proposal dated Oct. 6 — provided to The Flat Hat by an SA member under the condition of anonymity — would allow four people to apply to live together in a Williamsburg home if they adhere to strict guidelines.
In conversations with The Flat Hat yesterday, city and student leaders made it clear the proposal was preliminary — months from being voted on by the City Council, if ever — and that coverage of the proposal in this newspaper could jeopardize its chances.
“It’s just something we’re trying to work through,” said Williamsburg Mayor Jeanne Zeidler, who has seen an early draft of the proposal but wouldn’t say whether she supports it.
“I support looking for more flexibility in the three-person rule, but we need more conversation,” Zeidler said.
SA President Valerie Hopkins ’09 said she’s disappointed the proposal was leaked to The Flat Hat, as city leaders provided a copy to SA members under the specific condition that it not end up in this newspaper, according to several SA sources.
“It undermines the relationship that we’ve had,” Hopkins said, adding that city leaders were considering releasing the proposal publicly in early November.
She said that a final policy proposal has yet to be reached and that it’s unclear whether the proposal will even be accepted by students as advantageous.
“Ideally, we’d like to have the number of bedrooms, plus one, but we understand that we’re going to have to compromise,” Hopkins said.
The draft of the proposal dated Oct. 6 that was obtained by The Flat Hat would allow renters to submit an application to house four people in a rental home, but the renters would have to sign off on specific guidelines, including:
— There must be room for each occupant to have a parking space.
— The zoning administrator must inspect the property at the beginning of each fall semester.
— The zoning administrator will investigate complaints that more than four people are residing on the property, and 24-hour notice will be given if the administrator decides to inspect the property.
— Owners who have had the certificate allowing them to rent to four people revoked will not be allowed to rent to four people in subsequent years, unless the violation is determined to be out of the owner’s control.
Hopkins and SA Senator Matt Beato ’09 said this proposal is not the most current one, but they declined to provide The Flat Hat with details on what has changed because they were asked by city leaders not to comment on the specifics.
“I’ve been doing hours of research into whether it would be good for the city as a whole and for the student body,” Beato said. “Frankly, I don’t know the answers to these questions yet.”
Students have sparred with the city over the current policy for many years, with students arguing that the policy is unfair because it prevents four people from living in a four-bedroom house, limiting the ability for renters to afford living in larger houses in the city.
The issue played a prominent role in last spring’s City Council elections, when many of the candidates said they supported relaxing the code after about 1,400 students registered to vote in the city.
City Council member Paul Freiling ’83 voiced support last spring for a zoning ordinance allowing four people to live in a Williamsburg house together if they meet guidelines set by the city. He said yesterday he continues to support a relaxing of the three-person rule, characterizing the dialogue between student and city leaders about allowing a four-person exception as “a change in the right direction.”
“If we can do this successfully, we’ll remove the need for people to unlawfully try to squeeze too many people into a home,” he said, adding that amending the code would be a slow process that, at minimum, would take three months.
City Manager Jack Tuttle said the proposal was simply a listing of ideas, as student and city leaders are still in the process of finding common ground on how to amend the controversial policy. He said the proposal was drafted by himself, Assistant City Attorney Christina Workman, several city staff members, Zeidler and Vice Mayor Clyde Haulman, along with several SA members. The next step, he said, was to take the potential policy change to the city’s planning commission and to hold public hearings on the issue.
“This is the beginning of a many-month-long process that, if it is worked out, could result in some changes to the code,” Tuttle said. “The goal is to see if we can improve on our current system, and hopefully we can.”
Flat Hat Staff Writer Nancy Blanford contributed reporting.