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Virginia Beach to consider dorm-style housing for J-1 student worker visas

Sunsations two-floor building: yellow with blue and red stripes, signage for mini golf, ice skating, an arcade
Ryan Murphy
The second floor of Sunsations in Virginia Beach was formerly an indoor miniature golf course.

Read the original article on WHRO's website.

The owners of Virginia Beach gift shop Sunsations want to turn the building’s second floor into accommodations for international students working under J-1 visas.

About 1,000 such visa holders work at the Virginia Beach Oceanfront each summer, most often in restaurants and hotels.

Sunsations’ owners have to get approval from the City Council to make the conversion. Their ask comes as a recent housing report from Virginia Beach shows many retail and restaurant workers who staff the Oceanfront don’t make enough money to live in Virginia Beach.

Dee Nachnani said during the pandemic, he employed some visa holders at his Coastal Edge surf shop.

“The work shortage at the Oceanfront is a real situation. And for the approximate thousand J-1 students, housing is a concern, to house [them] in a safe and welcoming manner,” he said.

Nachnani leads the Atlantic Avenue Association and said the Sunsations proposal would create a centrally located residence for dozens of these workers, who often live scattered around.

“You don't have to Uber or you don't have the challenges of travel,” he said.

Currently, the only centralized place that houses J-1 visa holders is the 19th Street Hotel.

The proposal council will consider at its meeting Tuesday includes putting 86 beds in 11 rooms, like a hostel, on the second floor of the Sunsations building at 25th Street and Atlantic Avenue.

Kyle Korte, an attorney who represented Sunsations Realty LLC at a recent planning commission hearing, told that commission there would be curtains separating the beds.

He said there would be an on-site manager around the clock, as well as key-fob access for workers to get inside. The plans show a common area for cooking and separate men’s and women’s bathrooms.

Nachnani said this is a way for Sunsations to make use of the second floor space, which used to be an indoor miniature golf course.

He said the second floors of businesses along the Oceanfront strip are underused — and it used to be fairly common for shopkeepers to live above their stores.

“We certainly hope that we take the opportunity to utilize the spaces that aren't being utilized right now, because the thought wasn't even there,” Nachnani said.