Growth of rental housing criticized by Geneseo mayor

The Village of Geneseo Planning Board recently voted down a request for a special use permit to convert a single family home at 18 Wadsworth Street into a two-family home in which eight college students could reside.

Mayor Richard Hatheway expressed his concern with the proposal in a letter to the Planning Board, urging its members to vote down the request in order to reduce the spread of rental housing within the village. Hatheway said the letter was his own personal communication to the Planning Board, and that it was in no way meant to represent the views of the members of the board.

"It just seemed to me – and this is just me – that somewhere along the line we have to stop and say ‘do we need any more rental housing in this village at the expense of residential housing?'" Hatheway said. "I looked at the units listed in the 2000 census and there were about 1,780 units in the village. There were actually more rental units than there were residential units."

Hatheway said that although the large amount of rental housing has a "long-term effect on the quality of life within a residential neighborhood," the effect is not necessarily a reflection on college students in general. He compared the situation to that of vacation communities in which non-permanent residents are common during certain seasons and referenced the high concentration of rental housing in areas such as lower North Street, Ward Place and Wadsworth Street.

"The character of the mini-neighborhood changes and that kind of changes the character of the village," he said.

"Younger people's lifestyles tend to be different than others, in terms of hours that are kept, friends visiting and what have you … this certainly is not unique to Geneseo," he said. "As a matter of fact, I think the conditions in Geneseo are far superior to what other college communities have faced. I think there has been a regional effort on the part of the college administration to impress upon students their responsibilities as members of the community and I think the students have reacted accordingly."

Matt Griffo, chair of the Village of Geneseo Planning Board, said that in order to issue a special use permit, "We have to be sure that it won't be a detriment to the neighborhood." He said residents who live near the property in question came to the meeting "in full force," and that many wanted to stop the increase of college students living in their neighborhood.

Griffo said the decision to deny a permit, however, was unrelated to the issue of off-campus students and more related to limiting the spread of rental housing in the village, which can lower the value of residential homes in the area.

Wendi Kinney, Geneseo's coordinator of Greek Affairs and Off-Campus Living, said that she has heard complaints relating to off-campus students from permanent Geneseo residents, but noted that these complaints are infrequent.

"Occasionally you do hear from property owners who have issues on their street," she said. "It might be a general problem or one with a particular group of students."

While permanent residents sometimes have issues with students living in town, students living off-campus are also faced with issues when looking for a home to rent, cooperating with landlords and interacting with the community.

"It's a challenge finding quality rental housing…and having a good relationship with the property owner," Kinney said. "It's a big decision."

Sophomore Liz Felix recently signed a lease with three other roommates for a house on Orchard Street.

"It was difficult to find a house that fit the needs of my future roommates and I, as well as a landlord we felt we could trust," she said.

"With a landlord instead of a [resident assistant] it's more difficult to make noise complaints … it's a longer process and you never know if a complaint has already been made," said senior Kaitlin Springston, who lives on Main Street.

College policy currently requires most students to live in the residence halls on campus for two years, after which they may choose to move off-campus.