Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Williamsburg Property Owner Wins Approval To Convert Hotel To Apartments

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WILLIAMSBURG – The Williamsburg Planning Commission enthusiastically supported a $3 million plan to remodel the Baymont Hotel at 505 York St. into income-restricted apartments, under new rules adopted by the City Council late last year.

Both regulatory hurdles, rezoning the trapezoid-shaped parcel from B2 to Planned Development Housing and issuing a Special Use Permit, were easily cleared with 6-0 votes.

“I like everything I see about it,” said Commissioner Greg Granger.  “Long overdue and a step in the right direction.”

“It checks all the boxes,” said Commissioner John Cale. “It also helps quite a bit to improve the streetscape with the architectural improvements.”

Last December, after months of fine-tuning a plan, the City Council approved an ordinance to allow the owners of certain underperforming hotels and motels to apply to convert their properties to apartments for income-eligible tenants.

The Baymont, owned by Shree Arihant of Williamsburg, is the first to apply for conversion under the new rules. If the plan wins final approval from the City Council, 81 hotel rooms will become 76 apartments, consisting of 56 efficiencies, 16 one-bedroom, and four two-bedroom units. Scott Foster, an attorney for the Baymont, estimated remodeling costs at a little more than $3 million, which is roughly 100 percent of the current market value of the building.

“We want this to be a place people are proud of and excited to live in,” Foster said.

Those units would help fulfill a housing need not addressed by the city’s existing housing inventory.

The city’s 2021 Affordable Housing Report concluded that 1,247 affordable housing units were needed across income levels with that number increasing 31 percent by the year 2040.

The ordinance establishes that units must be rented to individuals or households with incomes at or less than 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI) as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which ranges from $46,200 for an individual to $66,000 for a family of four. Projected rents will range from $999 for a studio to $1,300 for a two-bedroom.

The property owner must provide an annual report to the city to verify that affordability requirements are being met.

Foster said each unit will have stainless steel appliances, including a refrigerator, cooktop, and oven. The electrical and plumbing systems will be upgraded. All bathrooms will be remodeled.

Water and trash collection fees will be included in the monthly rent.

The new apartment building will be professionally managed by a company that will be available 24 hours a day.

In addition, the building will have a fitness area, an outdoor pool, and a business center. A number of parking spaces will be eliminated to make way for more green space.

The city engineer and the police and fire departments have all reviewed the plans and signed off on them with minor requests, like replacing the lights in the parking lot with LED lighting and making sure sight lines are not obstructed by trees or overgrown shrubbery.

City Planner Tevya Griffin estimates that at full occupancy the building might generate ten additional students for local schools. Assuming all ten are new to the school district, the additional cost to the city would be about $100,000 since the cost per year in the Williamsburg-James City County School District is $10,207 per student.

The Flats at Williamsburg (formerly the Quarterpath Inn/Knights Inn), at 620 York St., was the first hotel-to-apartment conversion. It has a total of ten school-age residents. A second property, Willow Creek Apartments at 216 Parkway Dr., was converted in 2018.  It has 48 studios and one bedroom apartments, but no two-bedroom apartments and no school-age residents.

It’s always a concern when you trade commercial for residential, said Foster, who served two terms on the Williamsburg City Council himself ending in 2018, but the Baymont just doesn’t work as a hotel location anymore. The 1.3-acre parcel is too small for redevelopment. While York Street was once an entry corridor to the city and the Historic Area “traffic patterns have changed over time,”  Foster said.

On the other hand, there is a demonstrated need not just for affordable housing but for studios. A study commissioned by Foster found that of the 7,100 apartments for rent in Greater Williamsburg, only 104 of them are efficiencies. Ninety-five of those are at The Flats and Willow Creek. The vacancy rate is zero.

“This is meeting a need that’s not currently being met in this market,” Foster said.

That said, resident Deborah Snyder, who lives nearby in the Village at Quarterpath, cautioned the planning commission not to saturate York Street with income-restricted housing. The Flats is within easy walking distance of the Baymont, and Quarterpath Place, another community just off Route 60, also has a share of income-restricted units.

“I am not saying ‘Not in my backyard,’ but I am asking that future units be limited on York Street and that additional workforce housing be provided in other Williamsburg neighborhoods,” Snyder said.

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