Lehigh Valley

Easton Planning Commission rejects Lafayette expansion

College proposes housing for 400 more students

EASTON, Pa. - After about nine months of presentations and amendments for Lafayette College’s proposed expansion, the Easton Planning Commission firmly put its foot down.

The planning commission on Wednesday denied the college's subdivision plan and any special exceptions for an expansion that would include student housing. Commission member Robert Sun made the motion, which passed 5-1. Ron Shipman was the lone member who voted against the motion.

“Maybe if we deny the special exception, you’ll take all this seriously,” Sun said to college officials, who stormed out after the meeting.

Officials refused to comment.

The now hindered plan is for Lafayette to increase the student population by 400, which in return allows the college to fund more financial aid. Specifically, the increase would be from $43 million to $60 million annually, permitting talented yet financially-struggling students to attend Lafayette.

The college wants to add more dormitories to accommodate these students, which includes two four-story buildings located on Cattell Street and around High, McCartney, March and Marquis streets.

The first building surrounding the four streets includes about 7,500 square feet for a campus store; more than 1,000 square feet for a mechanical room; 241 square feet of office space; and just over 4,700 square feet for a diner. This is all on the first floor. The upper three floors are planned for student housing, accommodating a total of 165 beds, according to the proposal laid out by the engineering consulting firm, T&M Associates.

The second building, located on Cattell Street, will include two unspecified retail spaces with one as large as 3,600 square feet on the first floor. The upper three floors will be used for student housing, containing a total of 59 beds.

The construction requires the college consolidating 14 properties on McCartney, March, Cattell and High streets, with the majority of the space on McCartney. During previous meetings, the public raised concerns regarding the historical architecture of these building and replacing them with a new monolithic building.

In addition to the new buildings, the expansion includes about 300 new parking spaces on Lafayette’s Bushkill campus. According to the college's parking consultant, Barbara Chance, parking won’t be a problem. At a previous meeting, she said the college has over 1,500 on-campus parking spots and only 81 percent are used.

But at Wednesday’s meeting parking was the biggest concern.

Although the proposed parking lot offers 300 additional spaces, it’s 2,000 feet away from the college’s new dormitories.

Parking must be at most 600 feet away from the building. Large buildings require at least 200 parking spaces on site according to code, Sun said. One section of the city's planning ordinance indicates that “all parking spaces should be located on the same lot they are intended to serve. 

Planning commission Chairman Charles Elliott said the college’s interpretation of this stretches the intention of the ordinance beyond practical reasoning and recognition.

The plan "is not consistent with common sense nor supported by the text of the ordinance,” Elliot said.

Lafayette officials argued that college parking is different than at most other buildings, and said the students will be in the line for shuttle services.

In addition, college officials brought up the downtown arts center, which has parking over 600 feet away.

“I agree in retrospect we should’ve taken a harder look at parking,” Elliot said in regard to the arts center. “We expected students would walk there and there was a very limited demand. You don’t have an additional 400 students that all of a sudden need to find parking. It’s a different situation.”

In addition, there are 250 residential parking permits available for Lafayette College students living in off-campus housing owned by the college. Members of the planning commission said those were too many permits for not enough spaces, but college officials said they plan to reduce that number to 190 permits.

Five residents expressed their distaste in the college’s proposed project. One resident said he believes it falls short of a comprehensive plan and adds no value to the residents of College Hill. 

Architect Paul Felder presented his disapproval to the commission, urging members to take a look at “over a dozen” zoning violations. On behalf of Felder, attorney Blake Marles also made a brief presentation.

He persuaded the planning commission to turn down the proposed project, as he said it doesn't make sense for student housing to go up against a neighborhood, specifically College Hill.

Before the commission made a motion to deny the project, college officials asked to adjourn the meeting prior to a vote and reconvene in 30 days.

The commission ignored that request and denied Lafayette’s expansion plans. The commission will now send a recommendation to the zoning board to also deny the project and any special exceptions.

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