West Chester Borough Council discussed a controversial proposition to stop further construction of student housing in the town center.
The council meeting became heated last week as members approached the issue of student housing in the center of town. Tony Stancato, owner of Green Tree Apartments, immediately asked the council why they want to eliminate student housing, and council member Jordan Norley automatically responded “we’ve had our fill.”
Council members explained, amidst arguments and tangents, that the proposition would give a sense of balance to the town. The proposition would attract people of means to want to live in town, which would in turn further restore the downtown area.
Mayor Carolyn Comitta commented that this proposition would “amend and update in order to incentivize” the moving of older “empty-nesters” into town.
The Mayor stood behind the Urban Land Institute which favored attracting an older, more economically stable crowd into town which could help boost the town’s economics by providing more clientele to the stores and restaurant business district. This would include building towers to house these new affluent residents, not students.
That being said, Jim Jones, a former borough council member and local man, posed the question: “Is it a college town with residents in it, or a resident town with college students in it?” With many bars in town, the traffic that stomps through town center on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights will not stop. The students’ presence will continue to be felt throughout the town. The density, however, is the main issue with this proposed ordinance.
The proposition would grandfather existing housing, meaning that any preexisting student housing would remain, but no new student housing can be built. This does not completely eliminate students from town, but rather caps it at the amount it has now. The dense population of students in areas such as South Matlack and South Walnut gives a different feel than places with a lesser population of students, such as near West Miner. The neighborhood feel is felt much less in the areas surrounding Jake’s Bar and Riggtown Pizza and the surrounding blocks than into quieter neighborhoods.
Issues with density in these areas are not only because of the students. While students tend to get rowdy on weekends, the blame cannot solely be assigned to them. There are many other people, other than West Chester University students, who come to these areas. Students from other colleges and schools frequent these streets, but also people “who are looking to do bad things come that way” Jones said.
Shawna Stong, a junior at West Chester University, said she was offended and felt “unwanted in a town I spend so much time and money in” when she heard the proposition.
“Of course we’re going to want to go into town, we’re college students, that’s what we do…taking our housing out of the town won’t keep us out…there’s no way,” Alyssa Brown, senior, said.
Landlords came to the council meeting highly prepared to fight the proposition. Student rentals are a steady source of income for many renters in West Chester, and the economics of owning a student rental benefit a landlord more than a house or apartment rented to non-students.
“We were all students once, and we still are students” Zukin said. He is a landlord and owner to a majority of houses and apartments in West Chester, who was highly vocal during the discussion against the ordinance.
There is a lingering problem in student housing among renters, and while not all landlords are a part of the scamming and over pricing of student housing, many renters jack up the prices because they know they can get away with it. Some college students are scammed into paying 14-months for a 12-month rental, but do not carry through with the court process to get their money back, and renters are counting on that. Student renting is, bluntly said by Jones, a “cash cow.”
Local business economics in the town center are especially being taken into account when discussing the issue of students in town. The possibility of noise level and traffic throughout the town affecting the presence of more mature, economically stable families that the borough is looking to attract was, and will continue to be, a lively angle.
However, the city has changed over the years as the university continues to grow. It has been continuously leaning toward more of a college town with residents in it, rather than the opposite. The proposition will remain highly debated and opposed by many while council members continue to meet to discuss the continuation and possible future of the ordinance.
Gabrielle Rosati is a third-year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. She can be reached at GR688985@wcupa.edu.