Neighbors sounded off about students and the improvement district at a meeting.
With no developers or steering committee members beside him, Darrell Clarke on Thursday, April 19, told his constituents he wanted to have a meeting with them, the “old way.”
Unlike previous meetings for the proposed North Central Neighborhood Improvement District, Clarke was not accompanied by members of the steering committee pushing for the improvement district.
The city council president attempted to explain the benefits – increased security, lighting, cleanliness – associated with the NCNID to community members. But residents, for the most part, had one concern: Temple students’ disrespect for the community.
At the meeting, held at the park at 16th and Berks streets, the city council president listened to and vocally sympathized with complaints about students’ parties and behavior, trash, overcrowded houses and an unclear assumption of responsibility for the issues plaguing the area.
In the proposed legislation, Temple is slated to contribute an annual donation, which has yet to be announced.
“Temple University said ‘Councilman, we will, at minimum, match what the landlords put in and we will probably put more,’” Clarke told residents.
However, Hillel Hoffmann, director of university communications, said a contribution amount has not been reached. He added there is no timeline for when Temple will announce a number, because the NCNID has not yet passed.
The budget for first year of the NCNID would be $450,000, according to the council legislation. Property owners renting homes would be taxed between 7 and 10 percent.
Clarke also told residents Thursday that Temple will help alleviate off-campus student housing issues by requiring sophomores to live on campus, in addition to freshmen.
“They’re getting ready to propose: If you are a sophomore, you have to live on campus,” Clarke said.
Hoffmann, though, said the university does not have concrete plans for future housing requirements, noting that the South Gateway residence hall and complex is not yet complete. The complex is slated to be complete in Fall 2013.
“The university will determine the best housing mix for all students, when the structure is completed and when we know what enrollment numbers are,” Hoffmann said.
Residents like Judith Robinson said Temple should have a more prominent role than developers in promoting the district, since students have largely contributed to the problems the district is intended to fix.
“Beyond its [donation], they need to take ownership of this,” Robinson said.
Opponents of the improvement district largely cited fears that its approval would shift control of the community from residents to developers who don’t hail from or live in the area – a point that Clarke refuted.
Ruth Birchette, a block captain and lifelong resident, said she feared the effect the tax on residents in the area who rent out one or few houses.
“The regular resident that owns that one house that they’re getting some rent from, this creates a problem for them. You’ve changed their lives,” Birchette said.
Following the meeting, Clarke told The Temple News that such effected residents can vote against the bill if they choose to.
“You have individuals who are indicating that there are challenges or opposition to this, who have their own personal issues, who actually might own property and rent to people, and are using…the guise of acting as citizens concerned for the community, when in reality…they don’t want to pay the fee,” Clarke said. “If that’s the case, simply vote against the proposal.”
Clarke said claims that the NCNID would divide the community at its borders were “ridiculous.”
“You got to stop somewhere,” he said.
While there were clear opponents of the NCNID at the meeting, others came to Clarke’s defense, supporting plans for the improvement district and his work representing the area.
“I got to live in this hell and I’m a senior,” Louise Buney, a resident of the area for more than 50 years, said. “We need some help.”
Buney said she supported the district plans to improve the area, but not to a point that would give too much power to developers.
Clarke said he believed community members are beginning to root their opinions in fact.
“Bottom line is they have to get beyond the challenges that all of this student housing in the neighborhoods has caused them,” he said.
In September, Clarke introduced legislation that would have banned student housing in a large area around Main Campus. The bill, which was introduced before NCNID plans formally were, was not followed through upon.
“It [was] for developers, [the bill called] people to come to the table and sit down,” Clarke said of the housing-ban bill.
Other concerns from community members at the meeting included the need for more recreational space for children and short dumping throughout the neighborhood.
The second required public hearing for the NCNID is slated for May 3.
Angelo Fichera can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.