Opinion: Easton resident urges college to better city with expansion

Some houses on McCartney Street, which will be the site of a new mixed-use dorm, will be demolished in mid-February. (Photo by Kathryn Kelly ’19)

As one of the Easton residents that has spoken out against Lafayette College’s proposed dormitory expansion, I’m writing to offer my perspective and invite discussion about the role of Lafayette within its host community.

As reported by The Lafayette, residents are concerned that the project will have numerous negative impacts on the neighborhood. The project also appears inconsistent with the Easton Comprehensive Plan, the roadmap for the future of Easton that was created through extensive community engagement, including the participation of Lafayette College.

I understand that Lafayette views this project as a critical step toward expanding enrollment and offering need blind admission. While this is a laudable goal, Lafayette must execute its plans in a way that is either consistent with the vision that Easton’s residents have chosen for themselves or offers alternative value to compensate for the project’s risks. To date, Lafayette has not met this obligation. If Lafayette is unwilling to consider moving this project to a location that is consistent with the Comprehensive Plan and poses less of a burden on residents, it needs to take action that demonstrates its ongoing commitment to Easton’s residents and expands the value of the project to include us.

In a city where over one-fifth of residents live in poverty, according to the US Census Bureau in July 2016, I see an opportunity for Lafayette to align its vision with the needs of residents. First, Lafayette could play a key role in breaking the cycle of poverty in Easton by setting aside a portion of its expanded enrollment and financial aid budget for low-income Easton residents. That would represent a long-term investment in our future. Similarly, if the expansion results in additional staff, Lafayette could demonstrate its commitment to us by implementing a hiring preference for Easton residents. Finally, Lafayette could support Easton’s goal of increasing affordable housing by divesting itself of the residential properties it owns within the neighborhood. These are simple ways of broadening the project’s value proposition without compromising Lafayette’s objective.

I love Easton and College Hill.  I love the energy that Lafayette’s students bring to the neighborhood each year and enjoy having them here.  I recognize the value that Lafayette adds to Easton through arts programming, student involvement and direct financial contributions. I welcome Lafayette’s expansion and support its vision. However, Lafayette’s goals should not come at the expense of my neighborhood and the vision that Easton has set for itself. Accordingly, I urge the Lafayette community to reflect on its current proposal and consider what legacy it wants to create – one that raises Lafayette up at the expense of its host city, or one that seizes the opportunity to be a true community leader. I hope the college will choose the latter.

Written by Josh Gaffney

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