When Lindenwood University-Belleville later this month seeks permits from the city’s zoning board to allow more than three students to live in 36 homes and apartment buildings, area residents and at least one alderman plan to fight the request.
Ward 2 Alderman Mike Buettner said no more than three students should be allowed in a home to ensure their safety. And he wants his fellow aldermen to change a city ordinance passed in 2012 that allows Lindenwood to put three to 16 students in a home.
Mayor Mark Eckert said students were allowed into homes last month even though Lindenwood had not yet received the special-use permits for the homes. He said all the homes were inspected by city officials. “Safety is first,” he said. He added that it wouldn’t be fair to Lindenwood to cap the number of students in a home at three.
This issue of how many students can live in a home was one of a barrage of complaints lodged by nine residents during the City Council meeting Tuesday. Residents also complained about beer bottles being thrown about, late-night noise, heavy traffic, trespassing and the possibility that their property values will drop.
“We’ve had neighbors that typically say very good things about having students nearby,” said Brett Barger, the interim campus president for Lindenwood. “So it’s surprising but we take it seriously and then try to move ahead with correcting anything that’s within our control.”
“We kind of pride ourselves on being good residents and good neighbors in Belleville,” Barger said. “We have a history of having a very good relationship with students and the neighbors, and that’s exactly where we want to get back to.”
Buettner lives at 2015 W. A St. with Dianne Rogge. Six of their neighbors sold their homes to Lindenwood this summer, and Buettner said 32 students have now moved into their block.
“That’s too many,” Buettner said.
Rogge, who said she rallied area residents to go to the City Council meeting Tuesday to air their concerns, said the house immediately to the west of hers has eight female students and the house immediately to the east has seven male students.
“How can they be allowed to bombard our neighborhoods with 30 to 40 students per block that they cannot control?” Rogge said to the aldermen. “What about our safety and our quality of life?”
“Almost every one of these students has a car, and so traffic and parking has become a nightmare in our neighborhood,” said Rogge, who in late 2013 received $30,000 in a settlement with the city after a dispute over a sign she had in a building at 1926 W. Main St. The sign said “No TIF for us, Tks B’vill.” Buettner now operates Nanny Lou’s Kitchen in the building.
Buettner and Rogge both said they support the university and students overall.
“I think it’s good for Belleville to have Lindenwood here, as long as they’re controlled, I think that’s fine,” Rogge said in an interview.
Melanie Jenkins, who is a professor at McKendree University in Lebanon and the mother of two, told the council: “My patience is being tried” for various reasons.
She said beer bottles have been left in her trash in the past two weeks. “I know it’s a dry campus and they’re just dumping their evidence on my property,” said Jenkins, of 2112 W. A St.
“The noise hasn’t been too bad but it has gotten worse in the past couple years,” Jenkins said. “I just hope there’s some way we can have a better working relationship with Lindenwood.”
Noah Bruemmer, of 2016 W. A St., told the council, “I love the city” but he’s upset he has to deal with extra trash in his yard, increased number of cars parked in the street, drivers speeding and noise after 10 p.m., making it difficult for his children to fall asleep.
Rogge said the homes that Lindenwood purchases are tax-exempt, and she fears that could raise property taxes for residents citywide.
Barger, in an interview, said the school is a private, non-profit group, which allows the homes to be tax-exempt.
Ward 8 Alderman Roger Wigginton told the residents that the school has had “unprecendented growth.”
“I know for a fact Lindenwood wants to be a good neighbor, but also I understand that if I lived on those streets I would be very, very concerned,” Wigginton said.
He suggested the city establish a commission to act as a liaison between the university and the residents.
“Your concerns are real and we respect them,” Eckert told the residents. “We’re not looking the other way, we want safety and we want everybody to be good neighbors.”
The Zoning Board of Appeals will meet at 7 p.m. on Sept. 24 in the City Council chambers at 101 S. Illinois St. to hear Lindenwood’s request for special-use permits for 36 buildings near the West Main Street campus.
The buildings are on West Main Street, Creston Arms Court, South 21st Street, South 27th Street, South 29th Street, West A Street, Godfrey Street and Sassy Lane.
The city has sent letters to area residents, inviting them to attend the meeting.
Eckert said the university apologized for not getting the permits before the school year started.
This panel can make a recommendation to the City Council on whether to accept or deny the Lindenwood request. At least four zoning board members need to vote for a motion to earn a recommendation. If at least four votes aren’t received, the motion goes to the City Council without a recommendation. The City Council has the final decision.
Buettner said he expects to meet Monday with Eckert, Barger, Ward 2 Alderwoman Janet Schmidt and area residents to discuss the complaints about Lindenwood.
Since taking over the former Belleville West High School in 2003, Lindenwood University’s enrollment has continually grown.
It started with just night classes in January 2004 and fewer than 100 students.
Now, there are about 1,450 full-time day students and more than 1,000 of them live in university-owned homes, apartments and dorms, Barger said.
Eckert noted an economic-impact study released by the university last year states that from 2010 to 2014 the school invested $114.2 million into the Belleville economy. Lindenwood estimated this investment in building improvements, salary and revenue brought in from tuition and other costs yielded an economic impact of nearly $1 billion during this four-year period.
Eckert, as community leaders have done for the past decade, praised the way Lindenwood has contributed to the community.
“That central corridor of Belleville was starting to show some wear for a number of years,” Eckert said of the area before Lindenwood took over.
Eckert said he has talked to university officials after Tuesday’s City Council meeting about the complaints raised by area residents.
School administrators are talking to resident advisers about how to counsel students when they are out in the community, he said.
“They are working on all those elements of responsibility and respect to the community,” Eckert said. “However, we have to be patient, too, and understand that there’s some growing pains and we’re still adjusting to this fabulous new thing that Belleville’s got — a university.”