Unwelcome intruder

When hearing for the first time that St. John’s had already begun construction on a new six-story off-campus residential building, you might have been surprised. Just imagine how the people living in that neighborhood feel.

As part of the University’s continuing policy of seeking out new real estate in order to expand housing, St. John’s recently bought land in a Jamaica Estates neighborhood. The six-story dormitory is meant to fight the growing need for housing at St. John’s, as the resident population continues to grow each year.
Obviously, in a steadily growing university like St. John’s, the initiation of a new construction project is not really shocking news. That is, except for the residents of that Jamaica Estates neighborhood, who only learned of the fact when construction actually began.

The people living around the site of the future residential building were distraught to find out that a six story building would now be sprouting up within their neighborhood, especially since zoning codes limit buildings to a maximum of 40 feet. The dorm is going to be 62 feet tall.

This leads one to wonder how St. John’s was able to get around the zoning code. Apparently, there was a technicality in the zone’s community facility rules, which allowed the six-story building to slip through. How must this make the community of Jamaica Estates feel about their new neighbors, if St. John’s entry into the community was precipitated by such a sneaky move?

Residents foresee a whole mess of problems stemming from the dorm in their backyards. The most obvious issue is that of noisy students coming back to their rooms at all hours of the night. With families living around the building, the noise would definitely be disruptive. In addition, residents fear that having nearly 500 students move in would cause serious water pressure and traffic problems.

Still, whatever positive or negative aspects there are to this particular location, the controversy really boils down to the fact that no one was consulted. The Jamaica Estates community had no say and neither did St John’s students. While the University claims that discussing the issue with the public prior to now would have been “premature and speculative,” it would have been a great way to reach out to their new neighbors if they had been given some warning.

Beginning such a close relationship like this, with no warning and a questionable loophole method of bypassing zoning codes, is by no means a good start. These people have become neighbors to St. John’s, whether the University likes it or not, and having their cooperation and understanding would go a long way to making the lives of current residents and the future student residents better.

On the other hand, why deal with new neighbors at all? There is more than enough space on campus to build a large housing complex. This might have been placed where the townhouses are currently being built. Or it could have been built in place of the old ROTC building, which as of now contains only two offices.

New on-campus housing would be much more desirable for students and the University as a whole. It would be a much easier “commute” for students to simply walk to class every morning. As for the University, providing security would be much simpler with the building on-campus. Resident Life would receive an added boost of about 500 strong as well.

In the end, it is up to the University how it goes about providing for the influx of resident students. Whether the new dorms are on campus or off is ultimately a decision for the administration. Yet, how the University is perceived by its neighbors and its students is also based on those same decisions. The difference between being seen as a considerate, albeit noisy, member of a community or a completely undesired intruder could be as simple as giving the residents some advanced notice.