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Borough zoning regulations aimed at PSU students are necessary: Letter to the Editor

Posted 3/20/19

This letter is in response to recent articles in the Press & Journal about borough zoning restrictions and their unpopularity with Penn State Harrisburg students, specifically statements quoted …

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Borough zoning regulations aimed at PSU students are necessary: Letter to the Editor

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This letter is in response to recent articles in the Press & Journal about borough zoning restrictions and their unpopularity with Penn State Harrisburg students, specifically statements quoted in those articles made by Riley Cagle, a leader of the Student Government Association.

While I greatly admire the energy and enthusiasm Mr. Cagle is bringing to the issue, his well-intended efforts at putting into practice what he has learned in his public policy studies, and his desire to present the issue to the community at large as a win-win, there are several things he apparently does not understand.

The fact that the current zoning restriction makes students feel unwelcome is unfortunate, but is of little or no consequence to those of us who live here year-round in property that we own and occupy. The fact that students who are here for only nine months a year for four or perhaps five years cannot find what they consider to be affordable housing is not a problem that resonates with those of us who live here year-round.

What we care about is that there is already much too much rental housing in Middletown, resulting in way too many cars and too little available parking space. We don’t want or need the further deterioration of our neighborhoods and property values brought by student renters making those problems worse.

Students need to be aware that the current zoning regulations were not put into place until Penn State Harrisburg’s plans to expand into a four-year campus were made public, and that they are intentionally designed to discourage or prevent the very sort of changes that Cagle is advocating for — the further conversion of single-family dwellings into multi-unit rentals and the renting of existing rental properties to groups of unrelated students with the inevitable attendant noise, congestion and parking issues. The zoning restrictions are aimed specifically at Penn State Harrisburg.

Cagle’s allegation that Elizabethtown has modified its once-similar zoning restrictions to the mutual satisfaction of all parties, if true, is an apples-and-oranges comparison. Elizabethtown and Middletown are very different communities, and Elizabethtown College is a vastly different institution than Penn State Harrisburg.

As to Cagle’s assertion that “We’re Americans; we can live wherever we want” ... he is only half right. Yes we are Americans, but America is a nation of laws and respect for the rule of law, and Middletown’s current laws limit how many unrelated people can live under one roof for the reasons just stated. He can live wherever he wants; he just may not be able to live with whom he wants, and for good reason.

Are those laws discriminatory? Hardly. From the standpoint of those of us who own and occupy property in Middletown, they are protective and preventive in nature and need to be strictly enforced.

Finally, Cagle has opined that “We want this ordinance to not be enforced; we want to be a part of this community,” and contends that “Any sort of integration cannot happen until students start living in this community.” Nonsense; clearly numerous students are already living in the community, both legally and otherwise.

Furthermore, Cagle’s own statements reported elsewhere in the Press & Journal with respect to campus efforts toward increased community involvement by Penn State Harrisburg student organizations suggest that those efforts are far more likely to produce the desired integration than anything he is advocating with respect to zoning.  Indeed, recent experience has shown that a greater student resident presence in town will most likely work at odds with integration, further aggravating the existing division.

So thank you just the same, Mr. Cagle, but in all honesty, at arms-length is where we would prefer to keep you.

Larry Smith

Middletown