Tues. vote reflects strains in town-gown relations

by Jessica Spradling | 5/12/03 5:00am

If history repeats itself again this fall, about 150 members of the Class of 2006 will give up on the waiting list and move to off-campus housing. Where and how these students should be housed is part of a complex conflict between Hanover citizens in areas of the town heavily populated with students, townspeople living north of campus, the College and the student body, that will come to a head at the annual Hanover town meeting on May 13.

Several town residents, many of them members of a group called the Hanover Neighborhood Alliance, have proposed amendments to zoning laws, which, if enacted could hinder the College's current designs for the north campus expansion, College Provost Barry Scherr said in an April briefing with reporters.

Between 500 and 550 Dartmouth students live off campus every term, representing about 15 or 16 percent of the Dartmouth undergraduate population, Dean of Residential Life Martin Redman said.

In a survey conduced by ORL two years ago, about one-third of those students living off campus said that they would rather live on campus if given the chance, Redman said. This group, which numbered about 150 students, consisted largely of sophomores with low priority numbers, Redman said. This number does not include sophomores who alter their D-Plans because they did not receive fall term housing.

The proposed 500-bed super cluster, in what is now the medical school parking lot, would in large part solve the College's housing crunch. While Scherr said that no matter how many dorms the College builds, there will always be a number of students who choose to live off-campus, he said that this cluster would allow for all students who do want a bed on campus to be able to have one.

While the zoning regulations would not directly affect the area where the new dorms would be built, they would impose height limitations on other planned structures, leading to buildings that would occupy a larger real estate footprint to compensate for the lost height, Scherr said.

The housing crunch at Dartmouth has present for many years, beginning as far back as coeducation. Since the 1970s Dartmouth's undergraduate population has nearly doubled, but new dorms have been sparse. The East Wheelock cluster and the tree houses have been the only major new dormitory complexes built since coeducation.

Most students who choose to live off-campus live in isolated pockets of student housing and have little contact with their permanent-resident neighbors, which tempers the contact and tensions between the groups.

Mike Lovett '03, a resident of Summer Street in Hanover, said, "We had a little snowball fight with some kids this winter, but basically, we see them and they see us."

Redman said he gets between ten and 12 complaints a year in his office regarding noise or parking-related problems. Redman, however, pointed out that he is not the only person who receives complaints.

All other students living off-campus contacted by the Dartmouth had stories similar to Lovett's, but agreed that, while mostly pleasant, their contact with their neighbors was very minimal.

While the neighbors in several of the areas that students reside in, such as the Maple Street neighborhood, may be happy to see their streets a little cleaner and quieter with 150 Dartmouth students moving back on campus, the most vocal representatives in town politics are those who oppose the north campus expansion, due in large part to its enormity and how it will disrupt the feel of the neighborhood, and the flow of traffic.

Members of Hanover Neighborhood Alliance, a group of Hanover citizens in the high-value Rope Ferry Road neighborhood have been vocal about what they feel is over-expansion on the part of the College.

The million-dollar-plus price tag on many of these homes has effectively removed them from the student housing market, but the neighborhood is in a prime location as the College expands northward and uses the land the medical center formerly occupied.

While members of the Alliance come from all over Hanover, the large majority and most of the leaders -- who include several Dartmouth alumni -- live in the Rope Ferry Road neighborhood.

Despite their lobbying attempts, College President James Wright has refused to negotiate with the Alliance because he believes is not necessarily representative of Hanover.

The Dartmouth Alumni Magazine quoted him as saying in the Jan./Feb. 2003 issue that, "It should not be our role to determine who represents the citizens of Hanover. We have to work with those bodies that have been designated for that purpose."

A member of the Neighborhood Alliance, Heidi Eldred, also said in an interview with The Dartmouth that Wright had been "very clear" that he was not going to deal with any sort of neighborhood coalition.