By SARAH BOND
Fredericksburg is quickly becoming a college town and it’s time for local lawmakers to embrace that. While the City has never explicitly said it doesn’t want to invite a lot of college students to the area or become a “college town,” the actions of lawmakers tell a different story. This is specifically shown through the lack of parking for students, new unaffordable housing developments and the plans which the city has set for Fredericksburg moving forward.
Parking, for instance, has been a longstanding struggle between UMW and local lawmakers. The Comprehensive Plan for the City of Fredericksburg states that Fredericksburg should be striving “to protect the integrity of that neighborhood from negative impacts.” This may be alluding to the student parking issue in the College Heights neighborhood. It is problematic that this implies that students and faculty parking is interfering with the “integrity” of the neighborhood. It suggests that students are not an integral part of the College Heights community. The residential communities, incorporation of parking meters and strict regulations on where students can park further alienate students from the local community.
The Comprehensive Plan frequently mentions UMW, however, the University is discussed as a separate community within the larger area which needs to be regulated and controlled. For example, the plan says that it wants to “work with the University of Mary Washington to address student/resident issues in neighborhoods surrounding the University.” Some of these issues being “adverse impacts to surrounding neighborhoods, such as under-age drinking, parking impacts, and overcrowded rental units.” The stereotypes and stigmas surrounding college students and the “rowdy” behavior which they make bring are understandable but it’s harmful to solely focus on the negative impacts. Instead of treating college students as a problem which needs to be handled, the City of Fredericksburg should recognize college students as an economic tool as many other successful college towns have, such as Blacksburg, VA and Chapel Hill, NC.
The Comprehensive Plan also states that it wants the College Heights area to be restored to only owner-occupied properties instead of rental properties. This not good news for the large number of students who seek off-campus housing in the College Heights area. The city’s plan to ”recover from excessive numbers of rental units and reestablish itself as an owner occupied community” is a direct hit to the growing number of UMW students renting homes.
As the University of Mary Washington continues to expand its campus and increase its student body, more people are attracted to the Fredericksburg area. With more students, the historic downtown area continues to grow as well. The city has attracted new historic infill development such as the newly built apartments on William and Prince Edward, which are being sold for almost two million dollars.
The city’s new housing developments such as the George Street Brownstones, which are being built behind Foode restaurant, show a pattern in development of more high-end homes for sale and a clear shift in the demographics of downtown. The location of Fredericksburg is strategic and inviting to many people in the DC Metropolitan area. Many UMW students look for jobs and internships in the Washington, DC area. Fredericksburg is seeking to build expensive new multi-family homes for sale near the train station. The opportunity to live in downtown Fredericksburg with access to the train and quick transport in DC is a perfect place for recent graduates, however the homes are not affordable and not suited for younger unmarried recent graduates. Again, this is attracting an older population to the area. If more affordable housing options opened up downtown, Fredericksburg could become a place where students not only come for school, but stay after graduation.
Fredericksburg is currently experiencing A Tale of Two Cities: the city itself and the University, which are telling two different stories of Fredericksburg. While the historic downtown district is a separate entity from the University, I believe that these two worlds should be joined together. Instead of being divided, the University and City Council should work together to provide a cohesive and unified Fredericksburg where college students are not left out of the developments in the Historic District. As residents of Fredericksburg, the ability to enjoy and live in Fredericksburg should be available to anyone who lives there, especially the UMW community because it makes up an important part of the local Fredericksburg area. It is vital that local lawmakers recognize the legitimacy of college students as residents and the benefits of supporting students in the area.