With a classroom’s-worth of college students in attendance, Tuesday night’s Borough Council Workshop turned to where many of those students may and may not be permitted to live in the near future.
Council decided Tuesday in the West Chester Borough Council Chambers to move to discussion an ordinance that would eliminate student housing as a permitted use in the West Chester Town Center zoning district. Further discussions of the ordinance will take place Wednesday.
The ordinance, Council stated, would be part of an attempt to move more established citizens into the apartments surrounding the downtown shops. In turn, Council predicted the new tenants would be more likely to spend money in the shops and restaurants not targeted to the student population.
The issue is not one of discriminating against students, Council argued. Rather, Council hoped to create a more suitable student population density.
While many of the Council members seemed to favor the idea, the proposed ordinance was not without its detractors.
Tony Stancato, a realtor and life-long West Chester resident, argued his business would take a large hit if the ordinance passed.
“I warn you,” Stancato said to Council, “This is a mistake.”
Stancato’s sentiments were echoed by resident and apartment renter Stan Zukin.
In a filibuster-esque address to Council, Zukin argued he and other apartment owners were asked by Council 11 years ago to cater to the student population in the same downtown areas now under duress. Now, after pouring money into those units, Zukin argued he and other owners are at stake to lose out on those same previous investments.
Zukin also worried an ordinance of such style would send a precedent to the students that they are not wanted in town.
“Don’t bite the hand that is feeding the taxes to our wonderful town,” Zukin said.
Still, Council and many members in attendance felt the ordinance would greatly benefit the economy and maturity of downtown West Chester.
“There’s a need to raise the income level of people living downtown,” resident Joe Norley said, before adding, “We need to restore sanity to downtown.”
Stancato quickly retorted.
“The problem is not because my people walk up the stairs at 2 am, it’s because they are walking up Walnut Street from the bars,” he said.
Resident and former Council member Jim Jones told Council many property values grandfathered in as student housing eligible climbed nearly 20 percent 11 years ago after the decision to move students into the downtown area passed.
Jones too agreed now may be the time, however, to attempt to move residents with expendable income downtown.
In the end, Council agreed much more discussion is in order before any decision will be made. Zukin requested from Council a meeting with both sides and their lawyers before any decisions are made.
Discussions will resume Wednesday during the scheduled Borough Council meeting.