City and College announce working group on town-gown relations

The College of William & Mary and the City of Williamsburg are forming a working group to continue to strengthen relations between campus and the community. The group of five – to be named the Williamsburg Neighborhood Relations Committee – will include a College and a City representative, as well as a student, a landlord and a neighborhood resident. It will meet on a monthly basis to discuss concerns, assess progress and offer recommendations.

The formation of the committee is included as a part of a recommendation released Friday by Williamsburg Mayor Jeanne Zeidler and William & Mary President Taylor Reveley. In a progress report on town-gown relations, officials said it was important to build on the ongoing community conversation that began last semester as part of the city’s focus group on rental housing.

“The Neighborhood Relations Committee will play a key role in enhancing our residential neighborhoods by bringing together representatives of all the appropriate groups for discussion and problem solving,” Zeidler said. “This Committee will be an important vehicle for sharing points of view, fostering understanding, and developing a shared vision towards which to work .”

Appointed as an ad hoc advisory group to the Williamsburg City Council, last semester’s focus group specifically looked at off-campus housing issues. The Neighborhood Relations Committee will have a broader focus such as communication and relationships between different stakeholders within the city.

“What became apparent during the work of the focus group is that all five parties – the College administration, city officials, students, neighbors and landlords – need to be partners in seeking solutions,” Reveley said. “That begins with talking with one another on a regular basis. We all need to pull our own oars in this process, including the College.”

As a result of last semester’s focus group, officials identified several immediate actions to improve good will between the community and campus. Reveley and Zeidler meet on a monthly basis as do senior College administrators and the Neighborhood Council’s Morton Hall Group. City officials also meet with student representatives on a regular basis to discuss concerns and share information, such as the City’s annual student guide to Williamsburg government and services.

The College has also committed to being an active partner in resolving neighborhood complaints. This includes distributing “How to Be a Good Neighbor Information” to students at the beginning of each semester and providing a contact in the Student Affairs office to help resolve persistent off-campus issues between students and neighbors, including a recently launched off-campus housing Web site.

The group will be charged with monitoring and encouraging the contributions by various parties at interest - city, college, students, neighbors, landlords - to improving the quality of life for all in the neighborhoods; and helping to build and maintain effective working relationships across the board.

Officials say the neighborhood relations committee will form before the beginning of the spring 2010 semester.

“This begins with communications,” Reveley said. “Before a problem exists, we need to do our best to build relationships among students, residents, landlords, the university and the city so that we are working together productively.  We could have a one-person rule or a 10-person rule, but if the relationships are not there – if all five players have not taken an active role in developing good will and seeking practical solutions – there won’t be much progress.”