When does a transient become a tourist? Is a visitor seeking inexpensive accommodations in Old Town instantly a nefarious character?
These questions bubbled up Tuesday night when Alexandria Planning Commission recommended approval on a proposal to open a hostel that seeks to sell alcohol in a cafe or bar-type setting at 216 S. Peyton St.
• See: Hostel Seeks to Open in Alexandria
Nearby business owners and residents, as well as parents of children at several nearby daycare centers, expressed dire concerns about the idea of a hostel—an establishment that provides cheap lodging with regulations that is typically popular among travelers in their late teens to early 30s—opening within walking distance to many of Alexandria’s historic landmarks, parks, well-rated restaurants and mass transit options.
The business fronts, doorsteps and play areas of the concerned would all be traversed by the hostel’s travelers if it is approved by City Council later this month.
“You would think we’re being asked to approve a brothel in Alexandria instead of a hostel,” Planning Commissioner Nate Macek said.
According to the proposal, Alexandria Hostel would offer a mix of shared dorms and private rooms. A maximum number of 94 people could be in the building at one time, which includes hostel staff. At least one employee would be on-site round-the-clock, seven days a week.
Paul Cianciolo, the man behind the plan, said Hollywood is to blame for the perception of hostels—specifically a set of torture porn flicks about Europe’s budget-oriented accommodations.
“I think the term hostel gets kind of a knee-jerk reaction when you hear that here in the U.S.,” he said. “And that’s really the fault of Hollywood. They made a really bad movie. And because of that movie, a lot of people are scared of hostels. I think that’s where a lot of this reaction is coming from here today.”
Here is a sampling of what was said and written to Planning Commission about the proposal:
- “We’re very concerned with the type of transient customer that this type of facility is going to draw.”
- “You don’t want lots different kinds of people come in and out around kids.”
- “I am also around 30 years old and I don’t think I would ever stay in a facility of this type. I would fork over the extra money to stay some place a little nicer with more service.”
- “As a resident of Old Town Alexandria, I am uncomfortable knowing individuals having no ties to our community, and sometimes no ties to any community, are invited to this area.”
- “It’s no secret that people patronizing hostels are often not outstanding members of the communities where they travel from.”
Several commissioners spoke glowingly of their experiences patronizing hostels.
Commissioner Derek Hyra said he used them when he traveled Europe as a student. Now an associate professor of urban affairs at Virginia Tech in Alexandria, Hyra said it would be difficult for him to vote against something that would open the city up to more people.
“It is very difficult to stay in any of the hotels here because of how expensive the hotels are,” Hyra said. “We have beautiful boutique hotels but they are extremely expensive. They are out of the price range of most students. Something like this that will open up the city to be looked at, studied, enjoyed, appreciated by certain people who don’t have the income to spend $200, $300 a night is something this city needs.”
Commissioner Maria Wasowski said the hostel was a good use of a space that has been empty for several years and would help “further more cultural exchange for everyone.”
Council will consider the proposal on June 15.