College postpones start of new dorm construction

Proposed developments on McCartney Street. (Courtesy of the President’s Office)

The college’s planned onset of construction of its $46 million expansion plans has been postponed from this spring to next fall. Concerns have been voiced from the community about the impact it would have on the aesthetic of the College Hill neighborhood.

Paul Felder, a neighborhood liaison who has been working with Lafayette since September, said that the delaying the onset of construction provides more time for discussion between the college and the surrounding community.

“[Delaying the groundbreaking] gives a little bit more time for input both from community organizations, the neighborhood and the city itself,”  he said in an interview

His view is that some of the zoning changes requested by the college could possibly be “detrimental” to the neighborhood due to the “potential massiveness of the buildings the college wants to build.”

Felder said he fears that the college’s building plans could damage the character of the neighborhood, by possibly surpassing current structures in height by 15 feet, paving large areas for lots and eliminating front and side yard requirements, enlarging the potential outreach of the buildings.

“There is certainly a great deal of flexibility in existing zoning,” Felder said, which would allow the college to possibly do these things.

The college’s requested zoning changes were discussed Wednesday night at a city planning commission meeting, in which concerns were shared about parking and the design of the buildings in the college’s plan.

Felder does not discount what the Lafayette College has done for the community and how important its contribution is.

“The perception is that the college has done some very wonderful things in the downtown area recently…[making] a major commitment to restore an area that has been blighted,” Felder said.

He wants to ensure that the college continues its trend of helping to improve College Hill, he said.

Lafayette’s Vice President of Finance and Administration Roger Demareski said that he understands the neighborhood residents’ concerns.

“The neighbors want to know what we’re doing and we want make sure they know we’re being thoughtful, we’ve thought about other sites, and that it will be the proper investment, which it all will be,” he said.

Creating a historic district will affect a lot of buildings on the hill, from what materials houses are made of to what color they can be painted, according to Demareski.

“At times [a zoning requirement] can be pretty onerous,” he said. “If it’s written too loosely, then it doesn’t sound very effective.”

Demareski’s goal, too, is for the college to be “thoughtful, careful, to do it right.”

He said that just because the college might request up to 55 foot tall buildings and 100 percent lot coverage, does not mean they would use such wide boundaries.

Mayor Sal Panto said in an interview that he wants the community to set its own limits on the college’s potential future expansion.

“If you want to define the edge of the campus, you could do that by creating a local historic district,” he said. This is something Panto said he advised that Easton residents do roughly thirty years ago.

“Let’s determine what the college’s new footprint should be, and beyond that, make that a local historic district,” Panto added. “And they would have to go through a local historic district review. It’s another layer of protection for the neighborhood.”

Panto also said this was the only way the city could impose any amount of control over what Lafayette builds on College Hill and where they do it.

The delayed groundbreaking is contingent upon the zoning changes that the college is requesting from the city.

In the meantime, the college is planning to talk with the neighborhood more and take suggestions on improving the construction plan.

Although College Hill has been on the National Register of Historic Places for 15 years, becoming a local historic district would mean that the neighborhood could be subject to much stricter rules about changing buildings and property, and would be much more closely controlled by the local government.

Neither Panto nor the College Hill Executive Committee claim to intend to halt Lafayette’s plans entirely.

“To sit here and think that the college was never going to do this is bogus,” Panto said, according to an article in The Morning Call. “What we need to do is make sure they do it right.”

William Gordon ’17 contributed reporting.

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