Neighborhood Relations Committee a new tool for students, residents

  • Warm welcomeThe City of Williamsburg welcomed students back to school with several large signs.

    Photo by Erin Zagursky

    Warm welcome

The time is ripe to make serious progress on neighborhood issues near campus, William & Mary President Taylor Reveley told a packed room of city residents, students and local officials Monday night.

To make that happen, five groups -- city officials, homeowners, students, university administrators, and landlords -- need to work together, Reveley said. While that hasn't always been the case, a recently formed Neighborhood Relations Committee (NRC) includes representatives from each group and is charged with working with residents and students to address town-and-gown issues.

"There are five players in this game," said Reveley, who joined Williamsburg Mayor Clyde Haulmann in providing welcoming remarks during the committee's first public forum Monday night. "All five of us have to pull our oars if we are going to make progress."

Reveley added that the 2010-11 school year is a prime opportunity. Town and gown relations in general are very good, he said. And following last year's changes by City Council to the so-called three person rule and May's election of recent graduate Scott Foster ‘10, the students are more receptive than ever to working with city residents on issues related to student housing around campus.

"I believe this academic year can be a time of real progress ... on neighborhood issues," Reveley said to those in attendance at the Williamsburg Community Building. "That's one of my goals for the year."

During the two-hour meeting, residents asked questions of committee members, watched a video from a Vermont town on improving neighborhood relationships, and heard from the mayor and president.

Haulman discussed ongoing activities to improve relations, including recent Williamsburg signs welcoming students, a welcome during move-in day, Thursday's jointly sponsored performance by the Virginia Symphony and an upcoming ice cream social on Sept. 26 for local residents and students.

"We are on the right track, and both the city and College are committed to this in the future," said Haulman, who is also an economics professor at William & Mary.

The Neighborhood Relations Committee was formed last year following a progress report by city and College officials on town-gown relations. The committee is designed to build on the ongoing community conversation as part of the city's focus group on rental housing. The committee, which began meeting in the spring, includes Al Albert (landlord representative), Bill Talley (neighborhood representative), Assistant to the President Chon Glover (William & Mary representative), Emily Gottschalk-Marconi '12 (student representative) and Deputy Planning Director Carolyn Murphy (city representative).

Reveley said the College is committed to bringing more student housing on campus or close to campus. Next fall, Tribe Square will open on Richmond Road next to the Wawa and bring 56 new beds for upperclassmen in a mixed-use development of retail and apartments. The College is also committed to finding space on campus to build at least one more dorm of 200 additional beds, he said.

"William & Mary is a residential campus. That is part of who we are," Reveley said. "Right now, 75 percent of undergraduates live on campus. I would like to see that be more than 80 percent."

A major issue, everyone agreed, is the impact of absentee landlords who don't take care of their property, take advantage of student renters, and treat their rental units as simply a money-making business. One idea floated to the committee was developing a website where students could evaluate landlords and report problems with specific rental units.

Reveley agreed a website to evaluate students' experience with rental properties was a good idea. He also said neighbors must continue to work with city officials to deal with houses that are eyesores and operated in ways that degrade the neighborhood, often houses owned by absentee landlords.  

"The Neighborhood Relations Committee can be powerful means of helping on all fronts," said Reveley.  "We need to breathe life into it."

Additional information about the NRC, including the white paper and rental guides is available online. Questions and comments for the committee may be emailed to Neighbors411@williamsburgva.gov.