In a meeting between the college, the city and neighbors from College Hill last Thursday, a collective decision was made to postpone the Easton City Council vote for the ordinance changes originally scheduled for this Wednesday for two more weeks, Vice President of Finance and Administration Roger Demareski said.
The ordinance changes are necessary for the college to move forward with construction of the McCartney Dorm Project that is part of the college’s overall expansion plan. During this meeting, residents expressed questions about the necessity of all the proposed ordinance changes for the completion of the project, Demareski said.
“The planning commission chair [Charles Elliot] had a few examples, particularly around landscaping, so what we agreed collectively is we would take another two weeks…and sort of collectively ensure that what was being changed was really necessary,” Demareski said.
Tom Evans was one of the four neighborhood representatives at the meeting last Thursday. The other residents included Paul Felder, Janis Black and Rod Oren, Evans said. The college, he said, was represented by Demareski, President Alison Byerly and Vice President of Human Resources and General Counsel Leslie Muhlfelder.
“I think we were able to at least convey what the real concern was, because I think some people just feel that push from the neighborhood is to stop the project completely, and I think we finally got through to them that that’s not really what the concern is,” Evans said.
“The concern is that it be done properly and be done according to the city codes and that no special favors be given,” he added.
Previously, the Easton Planning Commission rejected the college’s plan based on what they saw as 50 different violations of the existing city code.
“What is supposed to happen now is [a] subcommittee is supposed to meet, and people from the community, people from the city and people from the college are supposed to go through those 50 items and find out which of the ones need to be changed and which should not be changed,” Evans said.
In addition the postponing the vote to April 11 and reviewing changes to the zoning ordinance, the college also ensured its previously stated offer to concede building 1B, located on the corner of High and Cattell Streets, if the ordinances are passed by the city. The building planned for this location consists of 30 percent of the potential beds of the project.
“If the ordinance changes are passed, and if the building 1A [on McCartney Street] is approved, we agreed to reevaluate the building on the gravel lot across from the Wawa,” Demareski said.
“Reevaluate 1B means it could be a parking lot, it could be a park, it could be another building, but we said we would reevaluate working with the city and the neighbors,” he added.
Both Evans and Demareski said they felt this meeting provided a necessary space to hear both sides and discuss the issues in a calmer setting than previous City Council or Planning Commission meetings.
“I think the tone of the meeting was far more amicable than what’s been experienced at the city council meetings,” Evans said. “While we may not have agreed on everything at least people were listening and hearing what was being said.”
“I think it was a very productive meeting, it was good to hear different sides of any issue,” Demareski said.
Despite both sides feeling a greater understanding was reached, Evans said he and others in the neighborhood are also concerned about how far the college will continue to push into the community.
“I think a lot of the concern is ‘what next?’ because I think people have seen over the years, there’s a tendency to continue to push boundaries and to continue to push acquisition of properties, and I think a lot of people are very concerned about ‘where does that end?’” Evans said.
Kathryn Kelly ’19 contributed reporting.