Lehigh Valley

After nearly 5 hours of grilling, Lafayette College puts College Hill dorm plan on hold for 2 months

EASTON, Pa. - Lafayette College's aggressive plans to build new dormitories and add 400 more students stalled late Wednesday night after a nearly five-hour meeting before the Easton Planning Commission packed with College Hill residents, many of whom said they feared the project would change the village atmosphere of the neighborhoods on the campus' edge.

College officials also found themselves on the receiving end of an exhaustive line of questioning from the commission.

Lafayette executives and attorney Danny Cohen had wanted the commission to pass zoning changes involving the construction of dormitories, among others, but at the end of the night Cohen said the college instead asked the commission to place the entire matter on hold for two months until the commission's April meeting.

City Council is scheduled to discuss the project at its Wednesday meeting. But because the commission took no action or made any recommendation on the project, council may have nothing to discuss officially.

The college's request to table the matter came after several residents said they felt the commission should "slow down the process."

Commission member Robert Sun peppered college officials with some of the more pointed questioning of the night, challenging their assumptions that the college will have no difficulty growing the student population over the next six to eight years, in a plan aimed at raising about $20 million a year for academically gifted students unable to pay the school's tuition.

"What if the economy tanks and the college is not able to fill the new dorms?" Sun said.

"What if it doesn't work?" he said. As an aside, Sun said, "Is this all necessary?" He said there were "many places to build on campus" and questioned the need to push into the area known as the "transitional zone."

Sun repeatedly asked what the "compelling reason" was for making the zoning changes sought by the college. Besides adding the dorms, which would be built between Cattell and McCarthy streets and include a diner and wellness center, the college wants to increase the number of unrelated people who can live in an apartment, from three to four.

Kurt Ehly and the attorney for Campus Pizza questioned the way the project is evolving, with Ehly saying "it feels like the cart before the horse."

As for the college's zoning change requests, Ehly asked the commission to "please reject every single one."

Attorney Paige MacDonald-Matthes, the attorney for the pizzeria, asked the commission how the college's request wound up on the agenda because she said the college had not submitted its plans on time.

Lafayette officials have said parking will not be a problem because it is constructing a new 300-space lot on Bushkill Drive.

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