Lindenwood: Nearly 1,000 people support student housing plan

Brett Barger, president of Lindenwood University-Belleville, says the school wants to be a “good neighbor” to nearby residents.
Brett Barger, president of Lindenwood University-Belleville, says the school wants to be a “good neighbor” to nearby residents. BND file photo

Nearly 1,000 Lindenwood University-Belleville students and metro-east residents have signed a petition in support of Lindenwood’s request for special-use permits to allow students to live in more than 50 homes and apartment buildings purchased by the college.

And the college says the number of police calls in the neighborhoods around Lindenwood have dropped from 2,082 in 2010 to 1,058 as of Oct. 3 this year. Lindenwood began housing students in the fall of 2010.

The petitions and information about police calls are included in a Lindenwood report released on Monday.

The document details why Lindenwood’s student housing plan should be approved by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals at 7 p.m. Wednesday in City Hall at 101 S. Illinois St. It was compiled in reply to Lindenwood-area residents who during the past four City Council meetings have complained to aldermen about the number of students who live their neighborhoods.

We want to be a good neighbor.

Brett Barger, president of Lindenwood University-Belleville

The zoning board acts in an advisory role and the City Council has the final say. Mayor Mark Eckert expects Lindenwood’s request to be on the City Council’s agenda on Nov. 2.

Ward 2 Alderman Mike Buettner and residents have complained that Lindenwood has placed students in homes before obtaining special-use permits from the city. Related story: Council fails to reach quorum on Eckert's role

Lindenwood’s report doesn’t address this complaint but Brett Barger, president of Lindenwood’s Belleville campus off West Main Street, said in an interview, “For me, the important thing to know, is regardless of the order of the special-use being granted is that student safety was never compromised.”

Barger said the city inspected homes before students moved in.

“We don’t take any action on our own,” Barger said. “We work closely with city officials.”

Buettner, who lives near the campus and has criticized the number of students allowed to live homes purchased by Lindenwood, called the Lindenwood report a “good propaganda sheet.”

“I just want to reiterate, I am not against Lindenwood University. I’m not against the kids, the students,” Buettner said. “Lindenwood University has a positive impact on the taking over the West campus,” Buettner said, but he is opposed to the number of students who live in the Lindenwood homes.

Area residents want to limit the number of students to three per home, which is the usual rule for unrelated adults in a Belleville home.

The report notes that Lindenwood has an average of 6.5 students per home.

$10,000-$30,000 Lindenwood spends to renovate homes it purchases

6.5 students on average live in renovated homes

Lindenwood spends between $10,000 and $30,000 to renovate each home it purchases, Barger said. The report includes photos of the deteriorating conditions of a home purchased by Lindenwood and photos of a refurbished home.

Here are other highlights of Lindenwood’s report:

Nearly $1 billion economic impact That’s the amount listed in a 2014 Lindenwood study that estimated the university’s economic impact from 2011 to 2014.

Abandoned schools The report show photos of derelict school buildings in St. Louis and notes “this could easily have become the fate of the former Belleville West Township High School campus” if Lindenwood had not taken it over a dozen years ago.

Zoning Lindenwood says none of the homes it has purchased are in a single-family zoning district. They are in two-family, multi-family, light commercial and heavy commercial zoning districts, according to the report.

Comprehensive plan Lindenwood says it helps accomplish the goals stated in the city’s comprehensive plan approved in June 2014. The college’s graduates help increase the pool of young professionals headed to the area job market, according to the comprehensive plan.

“We want to be a good neighbor,” Barger said. “We want to work with the city but also with the residents. We’re proud that we’ve been able to be a vital part of that comprehensive plan and really do that successfully. The vast majority of the people that are living and working in Belleville say, ‘Thank you for that and please keep going.’”