Letter to The Editor: Bicentennial celebration should include an evaluation of well being of our ‘Most Agreeable Town'

Dear Editor,

As we prepare for the Borough of Kutztown’s bicentennial celebration, we all look forward to celebrating the hard work and commitment of the many men and women who built our town and who nurtured the growth of a self-sufficient family-centered rural community.

But, part of our celebration should include an evaluation of how well we are caring for what we have been given. We need to take stock of the health and well being of our “Most Agreeable Town”. We need to leave our special town “in good order” for the next generations.

One of the growing problems for the Borough of Kutztown has been the increasing size of the neighboring student body at Kutztown University. Over the last four decades, the size of the student population of Kutztown has grown from about 4,000 to over 11,000, at its largest number. As the University’s student body grew in size so too did the number of students who came into our town to shop, to eat, to relax, to drink, and to live.

Over this same time period, the housing of University students within the Borough has changed dramatically. The student rental situation has changed from having one or two students living with Kutztown residents in their homes, to having five to ten students living together in a converted single family home, and now includes rooming houses and apartment complexes designed for large numbers of students.

One of the major problems for the Borough is the extent and impact of the student rentals. In an effort to learn more about this issue, I reviewed the “Licensed Rental Properties Listing” of the Community Development Office (the listing is found on the Borough website). I found some interesting facts:

1. There are 407 licensed rental properties in the Borough.

2. Of these 407 licensed rental properties in the Borough, 284 of these are permitted to rent to students. Therefore, some 70% of the licensed rental properties in the Borough are permitted to rent to students.

3. When I added up the “maximum occupancy” for each of the currently listed licensed rental properties permitted to rent to students, I learned that a total number of 2,875 students are permitted to live within the Borough.

4. When I looked up the Per Capita Tax Records of 2013, there were only 1,928 permanent residents (over the age of 18) left living in the Borough. Therefore, there are already approximately 1,000 more transient students permitted to live within the Borough than there are permanent residents living within the Borough.

This increasingly disproportionate number of student renters to permanent residents has had a significant effect on our town. For example: single family residences continue to be bought up and converted into student rental properties; with fewer families in town, the student population for the Kutztown Area School District continues to change; our annual budget continues to be dominated by the cost of maintaining a larger Police Department than we should need (The disorderly and dangerous behavior is caused by both students living in town and living on campus.); town maintenance needs are being deferred; our roadways are congested; our neighborhoods are no longer quiet; etc.

What we hear from people all over town is that families are leaving because of the loss of “peace and good order” in the community. The result is that we have fewer and fewer permanent residents to carry forward the character of the town (and to pay the bills).

As you have read in the newspaper recently, the Borough of Kutztown is considering a land development proposal for a new student apartment development on College Blvd. (Edge II), which is designed to house approximately 1,000 students. I am opposed to the approval of any land development proposal that will increase the number of potential student housing rental units within the Borough of Kutztown. I am also opposed to granting any further housing rental licenses for Kutztown’s single family homes which are purchased to be converted into student rental units.

The Borough of Kutztown does NOT need any more rental units permitted for student use. The residents of the Borough do NOT want any more students living in town. We must all talk with members of Borough Council about how we can protect our town from further loss of single family homes, how we can restore a better environment for family life, how we can stop the continual draining of our limited fiscal resources due to some students behaving very badly. We must work together to protect what is left of our “Most Agreeable Town” and to build again for a solid future!

I am listing some of my suggestions below. Please add your own suggestions when you talk with our members of Borough Council.

1. I suggest that we request Borough Council approve a Five-year Moratorium on the granting of additional/new rental licenses!

2. I suggest that we request Borough Council create a task force to review the various elements which impact housing rentals within the town. For example, there should be a review of the current zoning allowances for rental units, there should be a review of how the student housing “clusters” impact the surrounding resident neighborhoods, there should be a review of how the town can protect the remaining single family homes from conversion to student rentals, there should be a review of the required housing license fees, there should be a review of how often rental properties are inspected for safety and occupancy violations, there should be a review of the process for non-renewal of rental licenses, etc. (E.G., Do the current rental license fees cover the expenses for adequate Code Office staff to maintain the records, to conduct routine inspections, to respond to new requests, etc.?) The findings and recommendations of this task force should be presented in a public meeting for the residents’ consideration.

3. I suggest that we request Borough Council create a second task force to consult with our regional business and industrial leaders to assess the current and future needs of our region. This task force would then develop proposals for how to best utilize the Borough’s “Industrial” zones. The findings and recommendations of this task force should also be presented in a public meeting for the residents’ consideration.

Respectfully submitted,

Lisa Ladd-Kidder, Resident of Kutztown 8-8-14