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November 17, 2008

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Champlain_2 Champlain College had an open house last Wednesday to showcase its renovations and expansions beyond the Hill of Burlington as part of its eerily titled "Master Plan." Styrofoam models and artist renderings were on display, along with architects, planners and the college administrators. I attended the event (as a student) to find out how the residents felt about their big neighbor.

Some residents were upset that Champlain outbid the YMCA for the Ethan Allen Club property, and that there would be more noise and more beer cans in shrubbery. Kathy Valloch found many students to be rude, unreasonably loud (particularly from Thursday through Sunday), and frequently prone to property destruction.

She cited the downtown bars as a major factor, noting that the students "run up the hill screaming once they close." Sounds like UVM kids to me.

Valloch also said that she feels her property value has dropped since the sale of the Ethan Allen Club to Champlain College, and she's generally uneasy when faced with the prospect of more similar-minded people packed into a high-density neighborhood.

Other neighbors joined her, stressing that there was absolutely no benefit in having more college students in the area around Bradley, Buell, College and Hungerford Terrace, one of the centralized "college ghettos" of Burlington. They even suggested banding together to hire a private security force to patrol the area during certain times.

Another member of the community, further south on Maple Street, had different problems with the college's plan. A former child psychologist, the woman criticized the model renderings of the new buildings. She said they diminish the historic value of the neighborhood, and thought Champlain should relocate. "Burlington is not necessarily a beautiful city," she said. "Buy some land around the train tracks or somewhere else but this neighborhood needs to be preserved." She also thought more college students living around Edmunds elementary school would damage the children's development. Profanities, lewd behavior, and illegal substance usage could all potentially derail the wellbeing of an elementary school student, according to the woman.

Let's bear in mind that college students have been around Edmunds for decades, and older adults are not necessarily above behavior like this either. To date, I've never heard of serious complaints from parents or faculty at Edmunds. 

Certainly, I can agree that many of the residents' opinions are very valid (not so much on the child psychologist lady). I moved out of areas like the Buell, Hungerford, Hickock for many of the same reasons. However, when you move to a downtown neighborhood (as many of the residents have within the last 15 years), filled to the brim with college students, it's to be expected. There will be some noise. But there's a greater problem here: Clearly there is a communication problem between the college students and the wishes of the neighbors.

I take the time to get to know my neighbors, old and young, wealthy and poor. Maybe the residents could try to make an effort to strike up a conversation with some of the students. None of the residents I spoke to know any of their student neighbors. Not all students are assholes. Many are even approachable.

Champlain students had a bbq at the beginning of the school year in Winooski and the results have been positive. It's going to be noisy for the residents on College, Buell, Bradley. They live in an area sandwiched between downtown and two colleges. It has been noisy in the past and will continue to be in the future.

What Champlain should do is hold a meeting with its students stressing the importance of being respectful and friendly to neighbors. When the two buildings open for Champlain, the neighbors should be invited to eat and socialize. Getting to know one another will alleviate some of the ill-will residents have for students.


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I write as a college student (though not at a VT school) who lives in the Hill neighborhood. Will college students be loud and disorderly? Likely. Did local residents know what they were getting into when they decided to live next to a college campus? I hope so.

Yes, there are beer cans in the bushes. But Champlain also provides great cultural resources, including concerts, lectures, and performances. This is why people choose to live in Burlington, and next to a campus, in the first place.

Plus, the Master Plan actually has a number of elements that will beautify the campus, and improve accessibility to downtown via wider sidewalks and better lighting.

I think local residents should consider that Champlain is actually providing a number of benefits to the neighborhood, and that the fact that there are college students, and all that entails, should be a given.

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