Hostel hostility


By Julia Brouillette

Paul Cianciolo expected to hear from anxious residents when he presented his plan for opening a hostel along South Peyton Street before the planning commission last week. He was not disappointed.
Several residents, mostly would-be neighbors of Capital Hostel, argued strongly against the dormitory-style lodging house during the commission’s public hearing. Criticisms included potential noise and the behavior of guests.
And Cianciolo struggled to convince residents of the merits of his project like he had with city staff.
“I strongly oppose putting a hostel at this location,” said Katie Butler, an employee of a nearby business. “It does not complement the commercial nature of the rest of the street and has the potential to create safety, noise and other issues to this quiet, safe area of the city.”
Cianciolo, though, urged residents and commission members to consider the benefits of inviting a wider array of travelers to Alexandria.
“We are committed to operating a safe and secure place for those who want to explore their world and explore Alexandria,” he said. “We want to be a positive influence on the community.”
The proposed hostel’s close proximity to Blue Bird and Tiny Tots daycare centers sparked complaints from parents, whose children frequent the neighborhood’s sidewalks and parks.
“I’m not against the idea of a hostel in Alexandria, I’m just definitely against the idea of it in this location,” explained Steve Abel, who identified himself as a concerned parent.
Cianciolo believes preconceptions surrounding the term “hostel” are the root of the problem.
“We could’ve easily called ourselves an inn, or a guesthouse or something like that, and it’d give people a totally different perception of clientele,” he said. “I want to be able to talk to the daycare owner and maybe with the parents just to help alleviate some of their concerns.”
The parents of potential guests who stay at the hostel will have similar worries, according to Cianciolo.
“They want to ensure their kids are in a safe place while they’re traveling, and we want to be able to provide a safe place outside the downtown district area, so they’ll have that option,” he said.
Cianciolo blames Hollywood for the controversial nature of the term. Eight years ago saw the first of what would become a trilogy of horror movies named after the popular style of lodging homes.
“They’re more scared of the term ‘hostel’ itself, just because of the movies. Hollywood does a good job changing people’s attitudes toward things,” he said.
To provide safe accommodations, the prospective owner plans to scan passports upon entry, limit alcohol to the premises — the hostel will boast a bar and cafe — and foster a community environment among guests.
That collegial atmosphere in hostels is what makes them safer, Cianciolo noted.
“Hostels are designed to encourage interaction, so when something isn’t right, there’s more of an opportunity for another guest to say something or talk to the staff,” he said.
Cianciolo also plans to partner with St. Coletta’s adult service division, which offers adults with intellectual disabilities opportunities to participate in vocational and prevocational training, supported employment, life-skills training, and community integration.
With a 10-space lot nearby available for his guests, Cianciolo doesn’t expect parking to be a problem either. The planning commission agreed, dropping the 12-space requirement mandated by city code to 10 during the June 4 hearing.
“Hostellers don’t typically drive. Anyone coming from overseas is going to be using Metro or mass transit,” he said. “We’ll also have a plan in place to require everybody that does book a room to actually tell us how they expect to get there so we can plan for parking.”
Bria Schecker, director of events and media at 40Berkeley, a Boston-based hostel, said open lines of communication with the community are key to running a successful hostel. She advised Cianciolo to keep up outreach efforts.
“It’s about building a relationship with [the] community and making sure you address all of their concerns or problems up front. As long as [Cianciolo] is a part of the community and he addresses those concerns, I think that would be the best thing,” she said.
If Cianciolo gets city council’s nod Saturday, he hopes to open the hostel as early as this fall.