Lehigh Valley

College Hill residents staunchly opposed to student housing

Mayor: Housing would enhance neighborhood

EASTON, Pa. - "Don't destroy our neighborhood."

That is an apt summary of what Easton's College Hill residents had to say about 28 pages of zoning amendments that would allow Lafayette College to build an off-campus student housing project

"I'm not trying to destroy your neighborhood," Mayor Sal Panto told a standing-room-only crowd jammed into City Council's meeting room. "I'm trying to enhance it."

The overwhelming majority of those in a attendance at the special Council meeting did not agree with the mayor's assessment. When asked for a show of hands of residents who support the amendments, one person raised a hand. More than 30 hands shot up when asked if they disagreed.

The majority of the zoning changes would be implemented in what is called an institutional transition zone. The zone is a three-block radius with roughly 30 parcels on McCartney and Cattell streets that border the college's main campus. The zone was designed about 10 years ago to serve as a buffer between the college the surrounding neighborhood. The changes the city wants to make would alter certain uses that are currently permitted only by special exception to permitted by right. 

The decision would greatly benefit the college, according to residents who implied that a favorable decision endorsing the plan was anything but good government. Those residents who spoke said the city was favoring the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the average person. It is those average people, the residents reminded legislators, whom they took an oath to office to represent.

"Why can't they go to the zoning hearing board and ask for variances?" said College Hill resident Peggy Palmer. She reminded Council members and Panto that "spot zoning is illegal in Pennsylvania."

"They (Lafayette) don't care what they do to our neighborhoods," another resident, Paul Felder, said. "The purpose of laws is to protect the public health and safety."

In offering the administration's support of the amendment, Tina Roseberry, the city's director of planning, said Lafayette has a lengthy and rich history spanning 200 years in the city of Easton, through good times and bad. 

"The city values the institution and its relationship" she said.

She added that development plans for a college were unique and could not be handled in the same manner as single- or multi-family development.

"It's important that housing for students is located close to the core campus," she said.

Panto, who supports the College's proposal, said that keeping all of the development in this one area "enhances the neighborhood" and would not "do any more harm."

The amendments are scheduled to go before council March 14, with a vote scheduled for March 28. 

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