City rejects limit on student housing

  Burlington City Councilors nixed a controversial proposal this month that would have limited the number of apartment dwellers to four in the “downtown horseshoe,” where a large number of students live.    In a 6-8 vote, the City Council rejected the proposed zoning change that would have extended occupancy restrictions to neighborhoods that fall within the Residential High Density (RH) district.   The occupancy restrictions, which already apply to Loomis and North Willard streets, were set to include Pearl, Hungerford, Buell and Bradley.   Councilors said they felt rushed but would like to see the motion return to the ordinance committee.               The hotly debated issue has pitted landlords, who are largely opposed to the measure, against residents who complain of noise and other problems attributed to large numbers of students living in single dwellings.   Some critics are convinced the ordinance was introduced to the council agenda quietly so that it would get passed with little resistance and without causing much of a stir.   “It was closed door, old school politics,” said Bill Bissonette, a local landlord who is the proprietor of approximately 300 apartments. “Fortunately, they weren’t successful—they didn’t have any information to support it.”   Bissonette, who provides housing for rent in the Old North End to families more than students, thought that limiting the number of residents in Burlington’s downtown hub would cause students to push out to other parts of the city.    He believed that this could create an “apartment sprawl” that would inflate prices in what has traditionally been Burlington’s more affordable and low income housing sections.    “Any people who own real estate do not want imposed restrictions,” Bissonette said.             City Councilor Joan Shannon played a major role in bringing the ordinance to the table and advocates extending its mandate to the RH district.   With steady resident complaints of trash build-up, walk-by noise and cramped parking in the RH district, Shannon thought the ordinance would provide more livability in a district with a lot of “conversion” housing that retrofits basements and attics for more sleeping space.    “The purpose was to stem the tide of those conversions,” Shannon said.   Shannon also voiced concern about the increase in the number of cars.   “A four-bedroom house with a family is typically two cars or less,” she said. “Yet when it’s occupied by students, you would typically have at least four cars.”               Shannon called the possibility of students driving up housing prices by extending into the greater Burlington community “alarmist.”               “I don’t think it would change the population now, what it would do is stop future conversions,” Shannon said. “Hopefully the colleges will build more housing.”               Bissonette acknowledged that noise generated by college students was an issue, but he thought that it was a very small minority of the student population causing the problem.   He also called into question the foresight of disgruntled property owners and thought that they needed to use common sense when renting or purchasing in the Burlington area.    “People bitch about it,” Bissonette said. “The reality is that you live next to a university, you’re going to have kids walk past your house.   “People move up there and think that no people are going to be walking by,” he said. “Wake up and smell the roses.”   Seniors Marta McBean and Susannah Parsons pay between $100-$200 less in monthly rent than comparable downtown apartments would charge by living together in the Old North End.    McBean and Parsons were against the ordinance and thought that it wouldn’t solve any of the problems it pertained to.   “I don’t think putting a cap on the number of students will make a difference,” Parsons said, adding that she likes the community feel of the North End neighborhood and didn’t want to see it inundated with additional students moving in from the more densely populated downtown districts.   Maria White, a senior who lives on Green Street, said she was glad the ordinance didn’t pass, given that students are “hardly provided housing.”   She echoed Bissonette’s sentiment regarding student noise levels.   “It’s a college town,” White said. “People should expect a bit of noise.”   As for the future of the RH district housing restrictions, Shannon was optimistic that the issue would be revisited soon.   “We will introduce it again with the new council come April and start afresh then,” she said.