Planning and Zoning Committee cites university
The university guarantees housing for all students who wish to live on campus. But what if all the commuter students walked into Residential Life tomorrow and said they wanted to live on campus? How could the university accommodate these students?
This is the question the Hamden Planning and Zoning Commission posed to the university last Tuesday at its meeting. The commission said the university cannot guarantee housing for students if there is not a bed for every undergraduate student. There are 6,335 students at QU, and 5,020 beds.
This means, according to the commission, Quinnipiac is violating a condition it agreed to when the university built the York Hill campus.
When Hamden Planning and Zoning approved construction on York Hill, the university said it would “guarantee its full-time undergraduate students four years of on-campus housing by providing sufficient dormitories to accommodate the full-time undergraduate population on-campus.”
Zoning Enforcement Officer Holly Masi sent a citation to the university on Feb. 13, saying the university had to pay a $150 fine within 10 business days. If the university does not provide more beds or receive approval for a plan to build more housing, the town will fine the university $150 each day. The university can appeal the citation within 10 business days of receiving it, but if it does not, QU does not have a right to a hearing to oppose this.
But Quinnipiac’s attorney Bernard Pellegrino said the university does not need to provide beds for students who do not want to live on campus.
“We were not mandated to require every student to live on campus, so why would we have to have a bed for students who choose to live off campus?” he said.
About 20 percent of students choose to live off campus. This means of the 5,020 beds on campus, 271 are empty, so Pellegrino said there is sufficient housing for students.
Many of the commissioners said this does not matter; the university still has to provide beds for every full-time undergraduate student, even if the beds are vacant.
“Maybe it’s not a good business decision to have empty beds, but that’s what the condition states,” commissioner Myron Hul said. “Guaranteed and there will be space, whether that space is occupied or not…And if you really want to get out of this discussion, have your students be good neighbors.”
This, Hul said, was the root of the problem. Some Hamden residents are frustrated with the behavior of off-campus students. Last academic year, for example, police charged 22 students for throwing off-campus parties.
Hul and Town Planner Leslie Creane said the university needs to discipline these students better.
Creane said she is disappointed the university has not listened to her suggestion to have a “vehicle with yellow flashing lights” labeled with the QU insignia patrol the neighborhoods.
“Unfortunately words like or terms like ‘we don’t have jurisdiction’ or ‘we’re not going to do that’ were what came to me,” she said. “That is a problem. When there’s a constructive, very inexpensive suggestion.”
Chief of Public Safety David Barger said in November that the university does not have the power to patrol non-university owned off-campus houses.
Farlex legal dictionary describes having jurisdiction as “having any authority over a certain area or certain persons.”
Since these students who live off campus are not on Quinnipiac property, they are under the jurisdiction of the Hamden Police Department and cannot be punished by the university.
But it is not just poor student behavior Creane is worried about. When different students are moving in and out of communities every year, this changes the character of that neighborhood, she said. Hamden residents cannot form close connections with their student neighbors because they will leave after several months, she said.
“You can go round and round and all point to other things, master plans and everything else, but the real issue is you have a transient population in an area that is meant for a relatively permanent population,” Creane said. “And that transience is guaranteed. It changes every year. We know that. It’s a problem. So even if the behavior is exemplary, it’s still taking away from the character of the neighborhood.”
At most colleges where about 20 percent of students live off campus, these students live in secluded areas, away from the rest of the town.
“I went to Cornell University,” Creane said. “I lived off campus for three years. You couldn’t hit a family with a nuclear missile.”
The increase in students living off-campus is a result of what Creane called the “frightening” way the university grew so quickly over the past several years.
Commissioner Joseph McDonagh said he wanted the university to build more housing on York Hill.
Back in 2006, the commission had said the university could have built about 2,400 beds on York Hill. The university only built about 1,500 beds for cost reasons, but Vice President of Facilities and Capital Planning Sal Filardi said in November 2014 that the university was developing designs for new residence halls on York.
Pellegrino said these plans have been delayed due a “number of factors,” but that they are still part of the five-year master plan. He would not say what those factors were.
On and off-campus housing were not the only issues the commission was concerned about.
Assistant Town Planner Dan Kops said he is disappointed that the university continues to submit its housing data late. The commission also cited this violation in a Feb. 5 letter to the university.
The university was supposed to provide its housing data to the commission in September, but did not until the day after receiving the letter.
“Then we receive complaints about the fact that there is a hurried analysis and you don’t have time to respond to it,” Kops said. “It’s kind of a joke. Give us the data when you’re supposed to and you’ll get timely comments and we can have a discussion about it.”
Creane said this has to change and the university needs to submit its data on time.
“If you all have suggestions that you would like me to consider presenting to the commission and the town I recommend getting them to me sooner rather than later because right now this is my reign,” she said.
The university would not comment on this story.