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Here’s why PSU Harrisburg students should not be kept at arm’s length: Letter to the Editor

Posted 4/10/19

In a recent Press & Journal letter to the editor by Middletown resident Larry Smith, he defends what he says are the Middletown Borough Council’s “zoning restrictions ... aimed …

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Here’s why PSU Harrisburg students should not be kept at arm’s length: Letter to the Editor

Posted

In a recent Press & Journal letter to the editor by Middletown resident Larry Smith, he defends what he says are the Middletown Borough Council’s “zoning restrictions ... aimed specifically at Penn State Harrisburg” to keep students “at arm’s length.”

I and some of my fellow students are not only alarmed by Mr. Smith’s sentiment but also dispute his reasoning.

Mr. Smith claims that the borough’s practices are “hardly” discriminatory. Let us be clear: if “zoning restrictions … aimed specifically at Penn State Harrisburg” are anything, they are discriminatory. They are inherently designed to discriminate against students. And how the borough enforces these zoning restrictions and ordinances is highly unethical, in light of a March 20 article by Press & Journal reporter Dan Miller.

Covered in the article is a recent meeting between a group of four landlords and five students who have first- and second-hand experiences with borough code enforcement. According to the article, during the meeting, hosted by Riley Cagle of the Penn State Harrisburg Student Government, one student “said that on two occasions a borough codes officer had knocked on his door asking questions about how many people live in his building and about whether they are students.”

The article also states that “the other students described a general feeling of seeing themselves as being unwelcome in Middletown,” with one student who lives in the borough saying, “I think it is a bad thing to be a student in this town.”

The student “said she has been harassed by other people in her neighborhood over parking issues,” and another student then said that “he wishes he could live in Middletown, but is ‘fearful’ of doing so.” The latter student added, “The fact that people are so cold-hearted toward students in Middletown saddens me,” the article states.

The above is clearly a case in which students are thinking twice about living in Middletown in response to borough zoning and ordinance enforcement. But Mr. Smith claims in his letter that the notion of students being deterred from living in Middletown is “nonsense.” One must assume, therefore, that Mr. Smith is not familiar with the meeting elucidated above, and hope that, if he were, he would have a different view of the matter.

Mr. Smith continues to claim that students moving into Middletown has caused the “deterioration of [Middletown’s] neighborhoods and property values.”

However, a Google search reveals that the values of properties on North Spring Street, nearest the recently built Nittany Place, have either remained the same or increased.

And as for Mr. Smith’s belief that Middletown’s neighborhoods would be deteriorated by direct injections of new student renters (carrying new cash), this demonstrates a common misperception — a zero-sum perception of economics.

As stated by Middletown resident Hermine Clouser in a Jan. 18, 2017, letter to the Press & Journal, when students move into Middletown:

“Parents come to visit and need places to eat and lodge. Students utilize the post office, restaurants and stores. Overseas families note the presence of Harrisburg International Airport and plans for a new train station, plus proximity to the capital, not to mention major world-class hubs Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York City. Families then also find out that the cost of living is half of that of most major cities!”

All this economic activity results in Penn State Harrisburg contributing $198 million per year to the Dauphin County economy, according to a recent study conducted privately by David Swenson, an associate scientist in the Department of Economics at Iowa State University. As students move into Middletown and Penn State Harrisburg grows, Middletown businesses prosper and its residents’ quality of life improves.

Although Mr. Smith makes a good point in his letter when he says that students moving into Middletown could result in a paucity of parking spaces, this issue could be solved with some mild creativity.

We could work with the borough to draw lines for on-street sparking, for example, or institute a time-limit rule for the boats and RVs that crowd some streets.

We could perhaps develop a new parking permit system. But if we choose to be intransigent — if students continue to be excluded from Middletown — everyone loses.

Finally, Mr. Smith alleges in his letter that “the fact that the current zoning restriction makes students feel unwelcome is unfortunate, but is of little or no consequence” to year-round Middletown residents. In my experience, this is not true.

When Justin Imes, Student Government president, and I rode on the famous antique firetruck that headed the Middletown Halloween Parade this past fall, we witnessed the Penn State Nittany Lion mascot give hugs to beaming children and high-five the endless crowds of Penn State supporters lining the streets.

Few experiences have been more moving than the warm welcome the town offered us during the parade. And few things have been louder than when we would shout, “We are,” and the paradegoers would respond in chorus, “Penn State!”

Kenneth Gatten III

sophomore at Penn State Harrisburg and vice president of the Student Government