Every year, along with the masses of students scrambling to sign leases, developers create new plans to serve students up with leases to the shiniest and newest apartment buildings in Newark.
On Feb. 1, plans for a five-story apartment building on Main Street moved forward in a Newark City Council meeting, and now await a final vote from the Council. The new building will demolish the building that currently houses Tasty Wok, Playa Bowls and the former location of Margherita’s Pizza.
This plan, however, is just one of many in the city, and specifically on Main Street, to increase the number of off-campus apartments for students. Among the many development projects either approved or awaiting approval from the Council, there are plans and proposals for a six-story apartment building at the location of Starbucks and the former Duck Donuts, a three-story apartment building to replace the old Chapel Street Players theater on North Chapel St. and a seven-story hotel and apartment building that incorporates the “Green Mansion” on Main Street.
“We have a student housing issue where we do not have enough housing for students which in turn drives the demand up on all apartment housing,” Jason Lawhorn, City Council member, said. “Right now the demand is so high, [development] is very low risk.”
Lawhorn said the best way to solve this issue is to increase density downtown, i.e. on Main Street.
The push to create more off-campus student housing from developers has resulted in some opposition from community members who are reluctant to see Main Street transform.
“It lost a lot of the small town feel … but nothing stays the same,” Denise Russell Levering, a lifelong resident of Newark and university alumna, said. “Everything changes, [but] I wish they would restore more of some of the things, incorporating some of the buildings into the new buildings.”
Jerry Clifton, mayor of Newark, said that some community members also oppose increasing the height of Main Street.
“Neighbors have said that 70 or 80 feet is too tall, and quite frankly I can’t disagree with them,” Clifton said. “But when a project comes before Newark City Council, if it meets code you really have very few ways to say no to it.”
Though there are concerns about Main Street, Clifton said that the City Council wants to help students live closer to campus, so that they do not need to drive to campus and so that student housing does not encroach upon other areas of Newark where families are concerned about students living in their neighborhoods.
“When you see students going into the neighborhoods that are traditionally family neighborhoods, that’s a problem,” Clifton said.
Dwendolyn Creecy, City Council member, said that her main concern when approving these apartments is affordability. Even if new apartment buildings are created, they need to be affordable enough so that students can actually live there and move out of the more affordable residential areas, Creecy said.
“I don’t want it to start looking like Center City, Philadelphia,” Creecy said. “I want to have the greenery feel, the country feel … but we also have to think about accessibility to the students and making sure it’s affordable for you.”
Clifton said that the university has “pretty much put it on the private sector” to fill the gap in student housing.
“Frankly, [the increase in the development of off-campus student housing] has all been driven by the UD student population and to some degree by our shortage of housing on campus,” James Tweedy, director of Residence Life and Housing (RLH), said.
Tweedy said that while the university wants all first years and most sophomores to live on campus, they want upperclassmen to “shop around” the off-campus market and decide if off-campus living is for them before making a choice to apply for on-campus housing.
Tweedy said that the university has explored the possibility of building new residence halls and is currently running a comprehensive study of the existing residence halls and student needs in terms of housing.
“We all believe we need both new facilities … and modernization … and replacement,” Tweedy said.
The study also considers how existing residence halls connect with other parts of campus. Tweedy noted that the construction of Caesar Rodney Dining and Residence Hall replaced a tennis court and basketball court. South Academy, too, sits on what used to be another outdoor recreation area.
“As we’ve built residence halls, we’ve taken away a lot of those public community spaces,” Tweedy said.
He noted that RLH plans to involve the creation of more outdoor opportunities when considering the construction of new residence halls, and to also connect aspirations for a new student center to building opportunities.
“The community and the city would like to see the university replace some of the dorms that they’ve eliminated over the past eight years … because it does put a strain on the city and it really is a huge opportunity for the university and the city to work closer together,” Lawhorn said.