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Penn State students need to work on positive impact for area: Letter to the Editor

Posted 4/24/19

This letter is in response to a recent letter in the Press & Journal about borough zoning restrictions from Kenneth Gatten III, vice president of the Student Government Association of Penn State …

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Penn State students need to work on positive impact for area: Letter to the Editor

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This letter is in response to a recent letter in the Press & Journal about borough zoning restrictions from Kenneth Gatten III, vice president of the Student Government Association of Penn State Harrisburg.

Mr. Gatten may see our zoning ordinances as “discriminatory,” but what they are in fact is protective, intended to preserve the integrity of some of our neighborhoods by preventing them from becoming student ghettos.

Furthermore, there is nothing unethical about the way they are being enforced. What is unethical is the way landlords seek to skirt these ordinances by failing to make any attempt at due diligence in qualifying tenants to whom they rent.

I am well aware of the meeting mentioned by Mr. Gatten that was recently held between students and several landlords; it counts for very little. Students should be aware that in this community landlords are held by many residents in the same low esteem as that accorded to tax collectors and usurers in Old Testament times, and for similar reasons: they care about nothing except enriching themselves at the expense of others in the community and without regard for anyone’s property but their own. I would advise students to be wary of those with whom they ally themselves lest they be lumped together with the wrong elements.

With regard to student impact to neighborhoods, I had the unpleasant experience of having to live across the street for about five years from a property occupied by way too many Penn State Harrisburg students. I lost track of the number of police calls made during that time for loud, late-night parties and other noise. If that were not bad enough, the occupants routinely refused to use the off-street parking provided for them and instead parked on the street where the parking situation was already less than satisfactory for other residents. None of us who own and occupy our own properties in Middletown wish to have to endure any more of that in the future.

So if, as Gatten’s letter states, students are having second thoughts about renting in Middletown as a result of zoning ordinance enforcement, the inescapable conclusion is that the ordinances and their enforcement are having the desired effect. A tip of the hat is due to those who crafted them. And if, as Gatten’s letter further states, there has been no noticeable decrease (he alleges an actual increase) in local property values due to student occupancy, then certainly one of the reasons that is so is the existence and strict enforcement of those very zoning ordinances.

As to Gatten’s assertion that Penn State Harrisburg contributes $198 million per annum to the Dauphin County economy, that is a benefit to the community well in evidence and not in dispute. However, the economic impact to the community remains substantially the same regardless of whether students are living on or off campus. The only economic difference with restrictions on the number of students living in-town is the loss of a bit of rent to actual and potential landlords, and for those of us whose quality of life continues undisturbed by negative student impact, that’s a very small price to pay indeed.

I am grateful to Mr. Gatten for his kind offer to work with the borough to remedy our on-street parking problems with lines, signs and permits, but I’m fairly certain that neither the borough nor our police are interested in undertaking the resulting administrative burden and enforcement headaches any of that would entail. I think we’ll pass on that one.

In conclusion, however much of a gift to the community Mr. Gatten and his fellow students might fancy their presence here to be, the reality is quite the opposite. And, seeking to change our zoning ordinances to their benefit and at our expense is likely to have the complete opposite effect they desire, changing their status from being merely unwelcome to that of being complete pariahs.

My message to them is that if they really want to be welcome in town, they need to get involved with those on-campus student organizations that are looking to have a positive impact on the community and then make the wise choice to live either on or adjacent to the campus. To quote the final line of a well-known poem by Robert Frost, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Larry Smith

Middletown