Plan to demolish UD dorms, build apartments and townhomes met with resistance
CSX has floated the idea of closing Casho Mill Road at its underpass because the bridge is hit often. DelDOT and Newark don’t like the idea.
William Bretzger, The News Journal
A project promising nearly 100 apartments and townhomes in place of the closed Dickinson dormitories in Newark met resistance Tuesday night.
If passed, the project would complete the transformation of the University of Delaware’s west campus, which closed to students in 2015.
But the Newark planning commission recommended that City Council not approve the project, by a vote of 4-2. The vote against was unexpected, given the proposal does not require rezoning or any variances.
Planning commissioners opposing the project voiced concerns about traffic, lack of recreational areas and the amount of paved surfaces at the public hearing Tuesday.
The project’s developers, College Town Communities from Kutztown, Pennsylvania, intend to still seek approval from City Council, which has final say.
“We too are surprised,” said Michael Hoffman, a lawyer representing the developer. “The commissioners themselves acknowledged that no code relief was required. For them to still vote no is surprising.”
A date has not been set for the City Council hearing.
Consisting of the Dickinson and Rodney dormitories, UD’s west campus once housed close to 1,500 students along Hillside Road. It was constructed in 1966.
The city of Newark is under contract to purchase the Rodney dorm site from the university with plans to build a stormwater facility.
Down the street, College Town Communities would build four three-story apartment buildings and 46 townhomes, under the Dickinson project proposal.
Although anyone could rent, the developer expects interest to come largely from students.
The complex would maintain a walking path to the Rodney tunnel near the campus’ music and business buildings.
The project is the latest upscale apartment or townhome development emanating from the university’s growing student population. This one is perhaps the furthest from the campus’ epicenter and the closest to its surrounding suburban community.
The Dickinson site sits between Hillside Road and South Main Street. The CSX railroad runs directly behind it, on the side of South Main Street. Oaklands, a large family neighborhood, sits on the opposite side of Hillside Road.
Nearby residents have long speculated that an apartment building would replace the Dickinson dorms. With a plan now in front of them, many say the proposed apartments and townhomes won’t match the character of the nearby neighborhoods and could disrupt the community.
“It’s a crying shame. It’s the only nice and quiet place,” Tony Sipala, 57, said outside the Oaklands pool between the Rodney and Dickinson dormitories. “[The students] ransack these communities.”
The apartments and townhomes offer a mix of two, three and four-bedroom units, totaling 320 beds. That’s less than half of the capacity of the Dickinson dorms.
The buildings will also be a story shorter than the Dickinson dorms. In most cases, new student apartment buildings are higher than the buildings they replace, a trend that has drawn some backlash.
Complete with 240 parking spaces, the complex would likely be filled with upperclassmen and their cars. Some are worried about added traffic on Hillside Road, which runs one lane in both directions.
Planning commissioner Stacy McNatt said the existing traffic is already “slightly painful at all times of the day.”
“All of this change is difficult for us,” added Sheila Anderson, a Newark resident of 45 years. “It’s too much, too fast. It’s just way too dense.”
Developers across Newark contend they’re simply trying to match growing demand.
Since 2013, UD’s student body has grown 9% or by nearly 2,000 students. In that time at least 10 apartment or townhome-style complexes have been built in Newark, providing hundreds of more beds.
After growing by 7.6% (the greatest leap of the past five years) from 2016 to 2017, UD’s freshman class was stagnant from 2017 to 2018. But graduate student population continues to grow and shows no signs of slowing down. It has grown by 30% since 2013, to more than 4,000, all of which require off-campus housing.
South Main Street, which the Dickinson site backs up to, is just one of many areas in Newark that has undergone a complete transformation in recent years. A new block of four-story luxury student townhomes with retail on the bottom floor, expected to open before this school year, is among the highlights.
Elsewhere in Newark, more townhomes and apartment buildings are in the works on North Street, New London Road and Haines Street.
Students say the development hasn’t come at the expense of Newark’s hometown feel.
“I think it’s pretty cozy,” UD grad student David Angel said of the town. “I don’t think it’s like way too big or industrial.”
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Some are welcoming new buildings in hopes that increased competition will lower the cost of living off-campus.
“I think that would definitely be a good thing, if there were more options available, especially local options,” said rising sophomore Brandon Simeone.
But Newark residents disagree.
“Soon there will be no residential areas for families,” Pamela Dobbs argued in a letter to City Council.
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Contact Brandon Holveck at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (302) 324-2267. Follow on Twitter @holveck_brandon.
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