College Hill residents push back on expansion: “Keep it in your campus” and save the neighborhood

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The college recently proposed to reevaluate part of their dorm project in response to continued pushback from the neighborhood. (Photo by Elle Cox ’21)

Mario Sanchez Castillo

Some College Hill residents have found a new way to tell Lafayette that they don’t want its new dormitories in their neighborhood. Organizer of the “Save College Hill” and runner of the Facebook page, Lafayette professor and city planner Paul Felder said he has received 40 requests for signs that read “Save College Hill,” “Keep it in your campus,” and a crossed-out “Lafayette Expansion.”

Despite the pleas on the signs, the initiative does not oppose the concept of Lafayette’s expansion, according to the page.

“We simply want it to be developed in compliance with Easton’s own excellent Comprehensive Plan and with the College’s own Master Plan,” a post from Oct. 19 states.

The same post describes the group as “an organization of Easton, PA residents and friends dedicated to preserving the character of the College Hill neighborhood. We especially value the historic buildings that have been home to individuals and families for many generations.”

Around 100 residents on the hill have signed a petition to stop the college’s expansion and approximately 340 people have viewed their Facebook page, Felder said. The page currently has 52 likes and 55 followers.

Vice President of Finance and Administration Roger Demareski said he feels that the college is equally a part of the community as the residents and contributes significantly to the city.

“[Lafayette is] as much a part of the neighborhood as they are. The idea that it’s [our] campus, this is [their] neighborhood is really just not indicative of a college that has been here a long, long time. We’re as part of the community as they are and we demonstrate that over and over and over,” Demareski said.

Felder said that Lafayette’s expansion plan threatens College Hill as a neighborhood. The College has bought more than 140 properties on the hill, many of which are outside the currently planned expansion zone.

Posts on the page discuss the alleged illegalities of the college’s plan that are said to violate several aspects of the city’s comprehensive plan.

These violations are outlined in the Easton Planning Commission’s letter detailing why they voted not to recommend the college’s plan to city council. Such violations are at odds with “Easton’s Comprehensive Plan, Subdivision & Land Development Ordinance, Special Exception requirements, Parking Ordinance and Zoning Ordinance,” according to the organization’s page.

One grievance outlined in an Oct. 19 post is that the expansion site would “have no off-street parking, no off-street truck loading area; not even a handicapped parking space.” The college said in the meeting with the planning commission that it plans to relegate parking required by zoning, which could be upwards of 200 spaces, over to the planned Bushkill lot, which sits 1,500 to 2,000 feet away from the dorm site.

Save College Hill supporter and College Hill resident Peggy Palmer said she’s angered by the college’s violations in the proposed plan.

“Even though [President Alison Byerly] has said that the college could build more dorms on campus, this administration wants to break 50, yes truly 50, of our city laws to build new dorms, a diner and shops in our neighborhood,” Palmer said.

Demareski argued that the college expansion is a project that has many benefits for the community and it would be a shame to see it not come to fruition.

“[We should all recognize that] the stronger Lafayette College is and the larger that Lafayette College is the better it is for Easton,” Demareski said. “The city, in their comprehensive plan, wants to see retail and residential development, which is exactly what we’re proposing.”

“A new project like this produces a significant amount of tax revenues to the city….it could be used to hire police officers, fire fighting, whatever the city feels they need. The retail component of the project is one that is meant to be serving both the college community and the neighborhood,” he added.

 

Felder said he hopes both parties can get together and form an agreement in lieu of going to city council.

“I hope that the college, the city and people from the neighborhood can sit down and discuss how we can work together to allow the college to expand in a way that does not harm the city and the college,” Felder said.

Student government president Bilal Akbar ’18 said that the signs are not the best form of protest.

“As someone living off campus, I have to walk by quite a few of the posters every day, and believe they are unnecessarily hostile. Residents of the neighborhood have the right to protest the expansion plan, but I believe there are more tasteful ways of doing so,” Akbar said.

 

The Easton City Council meeting in which the college will appeal the planning commission’s decision will be held on Nov.9.