The provision of student housing is one of those Gordian Knot topics that city commissioners will wrestle with for a long time before they resolve it.
Based on the available information, no issue is taken with the commission’s unanimous decision Tuesday to deny a rezoning request by a group that wants to construct a high-density apartment complex a few blocks west of the campus. Setting aside what one commissioner described as the “NIMBY” issues, both the Urban Area Planning Board and city staffers found the proposal hopelessly flawed for reasons involving impact on infrastructure, drainage being the most obvious.
At the same time, Mayor Loren Pepperd pointedly urged the commission to come up with some solution to the student apartment question, which can only be worsening with the ongoing growth at K-State. Pepperd more or less suggested that some area close to campus be set aside for the development of high-density student housing.
One potential contributor to this solution would be for the university to build another dorm. None has been raised on campus since 1964. There is at least a basis for hope that K-State might take up the cause. In an interview with editors of The Mercury earlier this year, President Kirk Schulz said a new dorm would be built in the not-distant future.
It is well to keep in mind that promises made to The Mercury, even by the university’s president, do not constitute binding policy. Having noted that for the record, there is at least a basis to believe that the university may provide part of the solution to the city’s problem for it. City officials may want to encourage exploration of that possibility.
If the city really wants to pursue the idea of setting aside a portion of the campus perimeter for the development of medium to high-density student housing, it has a relatively target-rich environment to choose from, both east and south as well as west of the campus. Once environmental disqualifiers are factored out, this would be especially so in neighborhoods that are vacant of owner-occupied residences and with owners willing to sell, presumably at a premium price.
The problem, and it will be a big one, will be placating the permanent residents of such environs, to whom the city’s zoning laws have given what amounts to an ironclad guarantee against such a reconstituting of their neighborhoods.