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PSU student’s cars, not students themselves, are issue: Letter to the Editor

Posted 5/23/18

The following comments are in response to both an article and an editorial in the May 16 Press & Journal with respect to parking problems resulting from college students in rental properties, and …

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PSU student’s cars, not students themselves, are issue: Letter to the Editor

Posted

The following comments are in response to both an article and an editorial in the May 16 Press & Journal with respect to parking problems resulting from college students in rental properties, and to an article in the previous week’s edition in regard to occupancy restrictions on rental property in Middletown and the parking problems attendant to them.

Statements made by Diana McGlone in the May 9 article contending that borough zoning regulations are “targeting landlords like her and targeting Penn State Harrisburg students as well” are entirely correct. That is the stated intent of the existing regulation: “to preserve the existing residential nature of the neighborhoods … and to deter people from buying up and renovating homes in order to rent them to Penn State Harrisburg students” as quoted in articles. I think most homeowners in town would agree that is exactly as the situation should be and that the only people who would possibly take issue with the current ordinance are those like the McGlones who are in fact buying up real estate in town for the very purpose of renting it to Penn State Harrisburg students — all without any regard whatsoever for the impact of their actions on the surrounding neighborhoods.

A subsequent statement to the effect that Ms. McGlone’s request to change the ordinance to give her free reign to continue to do what she’s been doing is somehow for the “benefit of the entire community” is utter nonsense. She and her father, who live in a part of the borough zoned differently and who will never have to endure student noise and parking issues themselves, would be the only beneficiaries of such changes, and at the expense of the rest of us who live in areas zoned R2.

Further, any argument to the effect that there is some kind of economic benefit to the larger community from having Penn State students renting and living in town is also nonsense. The only economic benefit accruing is to the landlords who are collecting rent from students while negatively impacting our neighborhoods. That income then goes into buying up more property, resulting in more of the same kinds of problems with parking and noise we’re already facing.

The fact is that Penn State students are here impacting the local economy in exactly the same way regardless of whether they live on or off campus. In actual fact, the most likely economic effect of a change in the zoning regulation or granting of variances would be negative: a further decline in local property values resulting from the “student effect” on residential parking, traffic and increased nuisance noise levels. If you doubt this, you haven’t been reading the repeated complaints in past Press & Journal editions from residents of North Wood Street, Dauphin Avenue, Young Avenue and West High Street adjacent to student housing closer to the campus.

I am not unsympathetic to the financial concerns of students who need “affordable” housing to be able to attend Penn State Harrisburg, and I’m sorry if the enforcement of our current occupancy ordinance or my comments make some of these students feel unwelcome in town, but the unfortunate fact for the borough and for those of us who live here year round is that in today’s world, the majority of Penn State Harrisburg students bring a vehicle of some sort with them to college. It is their cars and their noise that are unwelcome, not the students themselves.

Students need to understand that they are bringing more vehicles to a town that already has way too many, where on-street parking is already saturated and where there is no possible way to expand residential parking beyond that which is already here. Students insisting on bringing vehicles with them to campus would be doing themselves and the rest of us a favor to choose to live either on campus or on Campus Heights where there is more than sufficient parking for student vehicles. There are numerous other students living in town who walk, skateboard or bike to the campus. They are more than welcome in town and not a problem for anyone.

The student vehicle presence off-campus within the borough puts a strain on residential parking everywhere in the borough, and not just on Water Street. The McGlones own a property across the street from my house in the 200 block of Spring Street that has been divided into multiple student apartments. While there is a lot behind it as required for off-street parking of its tenants, a number of the students who reside there insist on parking on the street instead, worsening an already tight parking situation for property owners and renters elsewhere on the street. This and noise from end-of-semester parties is a continuing annoyance for those of us who live in that block of Spring Street. Absent the strict enforcement of occupancy codes, these kinds of problems are only going to get worse throughout the borough and none of us wants parking and noise problems any worse than they already are.

Landlords such as the McGlones are part and parcel of the parking and numerous other problems in Middletown and need to be held accountable for the mess they are creating for the rest of us. They have a responsibility to all of the citizens of the borough the same as any other property owners.

Dennis McGlone’s assertion at the zoning hearing that the borough is “making landlords into police” is typical of landlords attempting to duck their community responsibility. Apparently he thinks his responsibility begins and ends with collecting and depositing rent checks. What the borough is asking is that landlords act responsibly and do their due diligence in ensuring conformance to zoning laws when vetting potential tenants. That should be the absolute minimum required of all landlords.

I would agree with the Press & Journal in its recent editorial on the subject of parking on just two points: first, that borough ordinances should be changed to prohibit boats, trailers and motor homes from being parked on-street anywhere in the borough; and second, that the existing regulation limiting occupancy to two unrelated persons, if allowed to stand, must be enforced uniformly throughout the borough, with stiff fines for landlords who don’t comply.

And that’s just for starters. Much more needs to be done to address residential parking issues about which I may have more to say in future letters to the editor.

In the meantime, I strongly take issue with any suggestion that landlords be allowed to apply for variances for either occupancy or parking. The laws need to be tightened not loosened when landlords are behaving as they are and the rest of us are forced to deal with the consequences of their irresponsibility. 

I would add that if current occupancy ordinances are allowed to stand as written, council should take action immediately to require that all residential leases executed for rental property within the limits of the borough contain language specific to the current ordinance’s definition of “family” and clearly stating its effect on limiting the number of unrelated residents who may occupy a single residence.

Requesting proof of relationship status of anyone via marriage and/or birth certificate is neither an extraordinary measure nor is it uncommon in other situations. If those documents are required of a person for any valid reason, that person can typically manage to produce them. I would think twice about renting to anyone who couldn’t.

Larry Smith

Middletown