Verbum Ultimum: Build it Anyway
The Lyme Road project has some big problems. The College should still move forward with it.
Last month, the College announced plans to construct apartment-style undergraduate residences on Lyme Road. The new dormitory will house roughly 300 students and, by creating more supply, allow the College to renovate “approximately 60% of existing undergraduate residence halls over the coming decade,” starting with the mold-ridden Andres and Zimmerman Halls and Brace Commons this summer.
The plan is not perfect. However, with proper planning by the College, its drawbacks can largely be overcome. The housing crisis demands immediate, creative action, and if this is the best the College can do immediately, we’ll take it.
Let’s start with the critiques. Students, professors and some members of the Dartmouth community have understandably taken issue with the dorm’s planned location 1.5 miles from the center of campus — a 30 minute trip on foot. This strikes us as sound: Having one’s living space so far removed from the social and academic hubs of campus could isolate and alienate students.
In our view, however, these concerns can largely be remedied. By offering reliable and free 24/7 transportation between Garipay Field and the heart of campus, for example, the College can ensure students have full autonomy over their schedules. Additionally, a dining location near the dorms is essential, lest the College create a virtual food desert for several hundred students. Finally, given the deeply unequal nature of this housing, no student should be forced to live in the apartments without their consent. These living spaces should be opt-in and separate from the residential communities — much like the apartments near Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center that are being offered to undergraduates this spring. If the College must incentivize students to live there with discounts on rent and dining or cold hard cash, so be it. Assuming these conditions are met, the distance of the housing is defensible.
Town residents residing near the planned dormitory, meanwhile, have levied an entire debate team’s worth of arguments, some stronger than others. Members of the Garipay Neighborhood Association have focused their ire on the development’s proximity to their homes, opposing the project on “community disruption” grounds — including worries about increased traffic and potential impacts on property values. Additional concerns have been raised about alleged environmental impacts of the dormitory, which would be located near a wildlife corridor, and the displacement of Garipay Field’s Nordic ski track.
Disruption of local wildlife and the loss of a beloved recreational space are both valid concerns, and the College should be sure to take these into account during construction. However, we are skeptical of claims of community disruption. Specifically, increased traffic is unlikely, given that many students do not have cars and the College does not appear to be offering parking near the building. Moreover, pedestrians can be protected by ensuring that there are sufficient sidewalks to account for the increased population, and even then, most students will be riding shuttles to and from the dorms anyway.
Much of the concern about “property values” and “noise” feels like a veil disguising many community members’ true motivations: Despite living in a college town, despite taking advantage of all the amenities a world-class university offers, they do not want to live near students. One resident put this surprisingly candidly in the Valley News: “Now they’re going to build on the east side [of Lyme Road]? Closer to where people live?” In a shocking turn of events, students are people, too, and we are not going away. If residents do not want students living near them, Hanover is not the town for them.
But just because these concerns are not valid does not mean the College is off the hook once these dorms are built. The Lyme Road project is a stopgap measure, a seemingly desperate attempt to address a critical housing crisis that has mired the College for fifty years. Even as the College moves forward with this project, it should simultaneously restart planning for new housing for other locations closer to campus. The plot where House Center A, commonly referred to as the Onion, currently lies, is a good start. Additional housing on the golf course north of campus would be welcome. Even the current President’s House location should be considered — why not move the next College President to a new abode on Lyme Road, further from Webster Avenue, then build dorms in the current spot? Finally, as the College renovates dorms and expands its supply, Hanover must, as the Summer Editorial Board wrote this July, loosen its zoning laws and embrace development. Lebanon has recognized the follies of anti-growth ideology; Hanover can do the same.
Dartmouth and Hanover have both ignored their housing crises for far too long. Though the Lyme Road project is decidedly imperfect, it is also a recognition that pretending there isn’t a problem will not solve it. Assuming that adequate transportation and other amenities are provided, that students are not required to live there and that environmental and recreational areas are adequately protected, we say: Build it.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.