Opinion Our View — 13 June 2013
Editorial: Innovative hostel proposal is no slam dunk

There are few certainties in life, but death, taxes and some form of opposition to every development project in Alexandria are among them. Sometimes opposition comes from historic preservationists. Sometimes it’s fueled by concern for neighborhood livability, like traffic and affordable housing issues.

This is not to say that development opposition on the grounds mentioned is never justified — simply that it’s as predictable as the rising and setting sun. In the case of the proposed hostel at 216 S. Peyton St., the primary concern apparently is the safety of nearby preschool children.

There are many appealing aspects of the proposed hostel, which received planning commission approval June 4 for a parking reduction from 12 to 10 spaces, but the project still needs city council’s blessing. The hostel adds an element heretofore missing from Alexandria’s tourism arsenal: inexpensive lodging for foreign and domestic travelers.

Adding a younger element to those visiting will bring more vibrancy to the city. It also will put more tax dollars in the city’s ever-needy coffers.

There also are valid reasons to be wary of the hostel proposal, despite proprietor Paul Cianciolo’s assertion that the opposition is informed by misperceptions. The reality is that hostels are different from hotels and inns in tangible ways.

Alexandria’s hotels and inns mainly attract families and business travelers. Visitors tend to be of both genders and varying ages. While hotel visitors can certainly become rowdy, that’s the clear exception.

In contrast, hostel users tend to be young people. Putting 94 such international travelers under one roof with alcohol in the mix — and only one overnight hostel staff member — is a different animal.

Most of the stated opposition to the hostel is because of nearby preschools, Tiny Tots and Blue Bird. Vigilant parents are rightly concerned anytime a new element potentially threatens their children. Memories of the horrific Newtown shootings still have parents on edge.

Despite parental fears, though, hostel patrons are unlikely to pose a threat to their children. The proposed hostel would have adequate daytime supervision, with four employees on site, and alcohol abuse isn’t normally a problem in the daytime. Our children are far more threatened by Americans with guns than by foreign travelers, who can’t enter the United States with weapons.

That said, there are two elements of this plan that primarily concern us. We are perplexed why city police did not weigh in on the proposed hostel. Special use permits have a section for police comment, but none were provided.

Is this because city police deem the hostel proposal completely safe? Do police not believe that extra patrols during the day or evening will be necessary? Did anyone at the department even read the plan?

Our second concern is for hostel users. It strikes us that only one overnight hostel employee will oversee almost 100 young people who are presumed to have been drinking alcohol. More help is a necessity.

Overall, we think the concept of bringing a hostel to Alexandria is a good one. But before final approval is granted, concerned city residents deserve to hear the police perspective on a potential hostel. We also believe the proprietor should be required to have more than one staff member on duty at all times.

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(1) Reader Comment

  1. I can’t say if a hostel will be a success in Alexandria – although it is very rich in history – but I do know that traveling and meeting other travelers is a great experience. Having not seen the proposal, I don’t know that this particular property is limited only to “young” people. Some hostels welcome adults, families, and/or younger travelers. Several years ago, when our son and daughter simultaneously graduated from high school and college, we suggested they travel to Europe for about a month with passports, Eurail passes, hostel memberships, currency to get them started and an American Express card to keep them funded. They landed in England and traveled to Scandinavia, Germany, former Yugoslavia, Italy and finished in Disneyland/Paris. Ninety-eight percent of the time, they had wonderful experiences and memories that will last a lifetime, not to mention the learning experiences of independence, cooperation, budgeting, etc.

    Young people in a hostel should be the least of your worries. Don’t let your fears limit others’ experiences.

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