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Hostel in Old Town: Affordable Accommodations or Rowdy Roadhouse?

Alexandria Planning Commission recommends approval of city's first-ever hostel.

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.   

Linda Fairall June 08, 2013 at 02:47 PM
The fact that the owner is pointing to the movie "Hostel" is insanely ridiculous. I'm 29, have never stayed in a hostel, and do not ever plan on staying in one. When I travel, I save up the money to stay in nice places, or i don't go. I have felt this way for as long as I can remember, and a stupid horror flick had nothing to do with it (did anyone even SEE that movie??? Idiotic). A Hostel doesn't fit with the overall vibe of Old Town. AND, although our city is fantastic, if I WERE to stay in hostel while visiting DC, I certainly would not choose one in Old Town. I'd choose one centrally located to DC sights to maximize my money and time, and if I chose to visit old town for a day, would hop on the metro and take the trolley. But to stay here??? It makes no sense to me. (Also: the crown plaza, Sheraton, holiday inn, and best western are perfectly affordable - NOT $200/night :P)
Patch Reader June 08, 2013 at 03:48 PM
Those hotels are also not convenient to Metro. Anyway, the question for city council to answer in reviewing this proposal is not whether it will be a successful business (that's for the investors to determine), or whether it's something they (or other city residents) would use themselves, or whether it fits "the vibe" of the neighborhood, but whether it's consistent with planning and zoning guidelines.
RJ June 10, 2013 at 12:51 PM
This is the Onion right? Bravo Patch, I didn't know you guys did satire.
Alan Budde June 10, 2013 at 01:25 PM
Oh man, I have been staying in hostels for 10 years (when traveling) all around the world. It's a really nice amenity for a person in their 20s that can't afford to spend $5000 on a month of living in hotels while they see the sights. Nothing goes on in a hostel that doesn't go on in your average college town. I suppose if you recoil in fear when you see anyone under the age of 30 a hostel isn't for you, but really there is nothing to be afraid of.
Mikemo June 10, 2013 at 01:33 PM
"When I travel I stay in nice places or I don't go". Thats a pretty thin slice of the world you have determined to be acceptable. And a pretty low percentage of people worthy of travel. Suggest you put a pea under your mattress and begin building a tolerence for adventures that dont begin with researching thread counts and valet parking.
Catherine Moran June 10, 2013 at 03:48 PM
Can someone please explain to me what one has to do with the other? Really, why is it a problem that a budget hotel will be next door to a daycare center? Without spelling out the specific concern, this argument just sounds absurd.
Catherine Moran June 10, 2013 at 03:58 PM
You are very sadly missing out on a wealth of experiences because you are too small-minded to even think about picturing life outside your baseless and incorrect preconceived notions. Some of the nicest experiences and locations I have ever stayed in were hostels (and guesthouses). They are nice places! And saving the $50+/night plus the $20+/day on restaurant food has afforded me to travel much much more than I ever could have without it. 5 continents on 20 or so individual trips, and I'm only two years older than you are.
Catherine Moran June 10, 2013 at 03:59 PM
Some of the nicest experiences and locations I have ever stayed in were hostels and guesthouses. You are very sadly missing out on a wealth of experiences because you are too small-minded to even think about picturing life outside your incorrect preconceived notions.
Stephen blake June 10, 2013 at 11:32 PM
Oh no! Gasp..their will be 'diverse' people. Oh no! They don't have beaucoup bucks! Reading between the lines, its socioeconomic and racial discrimination.
Just Me June 11, 2013 at 01:19 AM
Linda - I think you are missing out on some really great opportunities. I think you should do some research on what hostels actually are - and what they aren't. I cannot tell you how many people I speak with outside of the DC area talk about how they love to stay in Old Town. You are young so I suggest that you spend some time learning more about the world.
oldtowner June 11, 2013 at 04:14 AM
stayed in hostels in Europe.....don't really see a problem here.....
Beck June 11, 2013 at 04:09 PM
Wow, lots of NIMBY going on here. Did I miss the memo that says hostels=crack houses?
NOVAmomma June 12, 2013 at 05:29 PM
I believe that you could only give an informed opinion on this if you can consider the following. For those of you who have young children, think of this... Would you be open to someone opening a bar/hotel right next to your house? Consider, people on vacation drinking, smoking outside whenever they want. People with and some without criminal backgrounds, maybe even some who are sex offenders. Would you be open to that as your neighbor? As a non-white parent of 2 kids who attend the daycare next door, no thanks. In fact, this day care is one of the most non-white ones around and so it's not an issue of race. Patch, do some real reporting and how about you interview a parent or owner of at least one of the 3 day cares that are right next door to the site?
Drew Hansen (Editor) June 12, 2013 at 06:20 PM
Thanks for the comment, NOVAmomma. The quotes in the story came from people who sent letters to planning commission and from those who spoke at the hearing, which I attended. Several of the quotes came from people who identified themselves as parents of children at nearby daycare centers in letters or in their comments. As I wrote in the article, "parents of children at several nearby daycare centers" expressed "dire concerns" about the hostel opening. Can you, or someone else for that matter, explain the correlation between hostels and criminals? Can't "People with and some without criminal backgrounds, maybe even some who are sex offenders" also stay at the Residence Inn just across Duke Street from these daycare centers? Or visit nearby bars on King Street? Or go into Crate and Barrel? Again, I appreciate the comments on this story. Thanks to everyone for taking time to post.
Patch Reader June 12, 2013 at 06:25 PM
In response: "Would you be open to someone opening a bar/hotel right next to your house?" - This is proposed for a commercial, not a residential area, so the question of whether it's appropriate next to a "house" is irrelevant. Furthermore, there are already several hotels, bars, and restaurants equidistant (if not closer) to the daycare center than the proposed hostel. "Consider, people on vacation drinking, smoking outside whenever they want. People with and some without criminal backgrounds, maybe even some who are sex offenders. Would you be open to that as your neighbor?" - How does a hostel create any more drinking or smoking on the street than existing hotels, restaurants, and bars in the area? And while drinking on the street in Alexandria is illegal, smoking is not. And the link between hostel patrons and sex offenders is not apparent. "Patch, do some real reporting and how about you interview a parent or owner of at least one of the 3 day cares that are right next door to the site?" - See the bulleted list of criticisms of the hostel in the article above. Most of these comments were made by parents of the nearby daycare centers.
NOVAmomma June 12, 2013 at 06:49 PM
Since you are going to be literal to my response, I will explain. This sight is right next to the daycare. The residence inn that you refer to is not. When I consider choosing my daycare, where my children will be for 8-10 hours a day, I do not want it next door to a bar/hotel. I know smoking is not illegal but I have a choice to not want to have my kids seeing this every day as they go inside/out of the daycare. Did you also know that the children/classes walk on this street several times a day for walks in the neighborhood or to and from the other daycares? When you consider day cares, you would send yours to the one that's next to a hostel? Really? Then either you are not a parent or crappy one.
NOVAmomma June 12, 2013 at 06:57 PM
From your bio I see that you are clearly not a parent and reported on this with a slant that supports your "hiking, biking and hanging out with friends" lifestyle. It's great to be a free spirit and not judge people when you don't have someone to consider who is more important than yourself and your ideals. I will consider your opinion when you another person in your life that you want to protect and keep safe.
Just Me June 12, 2013 at 11:32 PM
I think I speak for a lot of people when I tell you that your arrogance and perceived superiority does not win you a lot of support. You have chosen to discount everyone else's opinion as being inferior to yours. How about you stop judging the rest of us before you ask us to stop judging you? Remember, you started the haughtiness. All I am reading is how the people who are going to be visiting this hostel are going to be akin to the devil's spawn. Again, you want us to stop judging you when you have brushed an entire group of people whom you don't know and have never met with one negative stereotype. How about you back-up your assertions with actual facts rather than nasty comments. Then maybe you'll get more respect. At this point if you are going to start calling people out on their parenting skills, you may want to look in the mirror first. What are you teaching your kids by acting this way, hmmm?
Karen Goff June 12, 2013 at 11:47 PM
"From your bio I see that you are clearly not a parent and reported on this with a slant that supports your "hiking, biking and hanging out with friends" lifestyle. " NovaMomma - as a colleague of Drew's and a parent - I take issue with this. One does not have to have the same life experiences as the people they are writing about. Do sports reporters have to have been pro athletes? If I write about crime, am I being biased because I have never broken the law? The reporter included a diverse sample of opinions in his story. He can't possibly know the opinion of every single person who might be affected by this story. That is what the comments here are for. You are entitled to be upset by a hostel near your day care, but it is ridiculous to call out the reporter as biased because he is not a parent.
Jane V June 13, 2013 at 12:18 AM
If you have never stayed in a hostel and never plan to, what background knowledge fo you have with the vibe of a hostel?
Jane V June 13, 2013 at 12:45 AM
I am also confused about the connection between hostels and criminals/sex offenders/smokers/ etc. My husband (scientist with PhD) and myself (public school teacher who is 6 months pregnant) just stayed in a lovely hostel a week ago. We are not criminals nor smokers. We also have enough money to stay in a hotel, but we didn't want to. When I read this article I didn't feel like there was any slant. It seemed pretty informative. I didn't get any hints about "biking, hiking, and hanging out with friends" in this piece either. Does my opinion count more than a person without kids because I'm pregnant? Or do I need to wait until after our baby's birth to have a worthy opinion to be considered? I agree with the author's statements above and I'm pretty sure my opinion won't change. I would actually be ok with sending out child to a daycare that is near a hostel as long as it is a good daycare. After saying that I'm probably being judged as a bad mother...oh well.
Carl June 13, 2013 at 01:16 AM
NOVAmomma, It's not the city's responsibility to parent on your behalf. If you don't like it, move your kids to a different daycare center. Newsflash: somebody can walk around your neighborhood smoking (Gasp) at 3 am. It has nothing to do with a hostel. You need to get real.
dana wedeles June 13, 2013 at 01:38 AM
In the past year I've had college interns from out of state working in our office who have stayed in DC hostels while looking or temporary housing. If they didn't have the hostels to stay in they would not have had the opportunity to move to the DC area. They had great experiences and met other people their age who were also either re-locating to the area or traveling from Europe.
Just Me June 13, 2013 at 01:41 AM
Unfortunately, my response did not fill in as expected. In order to avoid any confusion, my response is directed to NOVAmomma's self-absorbed rant.
Del Ray Ray June 13, 2013 at 01:46 AM
I smoke, drink and have no ties to the community. I lurk out there, living amongst the parents in this lawless Amersterstam type city of Old Town Alexandria...
Marc P June 15, 2013 at 01:58 PM
As the former Potomac Area Council store manager (circa turn of the century), I' like to thank and applaud the positive comments about hosteling. Get over to the City Hall today to support hosteling. I'm going to try and get there with my young kids to show that I'm a WIMBY---Want in my back yard. To those of you against it, I'd like to invite you to be part of the process. Even if I disagree with your pretty wild statements, as a hosteler, I would want you to become part of the process. Fear can only be calmed by making sure you have a say in a positive way. Hosteling is inclusion rather than exclusion, learning rather than blocking and joining people together worldwide. Yours Truly, the PAC MAN, 1983-84.
Marc P June 15, 2013 at 06:30 PM
Just left the Council Chambers a few minutes ago. City Council approved 7-0 for hostel, although they are giving it more scrutiny then I think is necessary to appease the neighbors. When I came in with my young daughter, they immediately assumed I was against the hostel. Wish I could have spoken to the council and the audience to lessen their fears. MP
Zoey&Chloe'smom June 15, 2013 at 10:04 PM
Where is Amersterstam? You must have gone to a school in the Alexandria school system, recently, if you mean Amsterdam.
oldtowner June 19, 2013 at 06:04 PM
to Zoey&Chloemom: meow.....pretty snarky comment; my kids graduated from Alex public schools and did quite fine, thank you. Poor Zoey & Chloe.
oldtowner June 19, 2013 at 06:07 PM
to Patch editor: Not real keen on your new set up. I did a search for "hostel" to get an update on this issue and it said there were no results for "hostel." What's up with that? If in fact Council did approve it on Saturday, would be nice to see a follow-up article. Another thing don't like about new setup is it doesn't seem like one can "reply" to a particular comment....you just end up at the end of the line. Did I miss something that allows you to do that? So far I have found it not easy to navigate the new site.

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