Apartment development moratorium could be turning point for off-campus housing

Carriage House apartments is one of many off-campus housing areas available to students. The town's ongoing moratorium could seriously affect the way students pick off-campus housing. (Tyler Benton/The Daily Campus)

Mansfield’s ongoing moratorium on multi-family housing developments could result in significant policy changes for off-campus students, said Undergraduate Student Government president Dan Byrd.

The Mansfield Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved a nine-month moratorium on apartment complex development applications on Tuesday. The moratorium is designed to give the commission time to update existing multi-family housing regulations to align with the town’s plan of conservation and development, committee member Kenneth Rawn said at the meeting.

Attorneys Susan Hays and Jeffrey Resetco, representing housing developers Wilmorite and EdR respectively, told the commission the moratorium could delay construction of new multi-family housing in the Mansfield area by up to two years.

“I’m less concerned about the moratorium than I am about the actual policies coming out of it,” said Byrd, a 7th-semester political science major.

A lack of new apartments could push University of Connecticut students into more single-family rentals, Byrd said, but the commission has the opportunity to address this issue by exempting multi-family housing from the limit on student renters. This would save students money and encourage them to leave residential neighborhoods, he said.

Depending on when the property was zoned as a rental, only three or four unrelated tenants can currently share an apartment or single-family home in Mansfield regardless of the number of bedrooms.

“I do think that increasing the number of managed apartment complexes in this town, especially if you add the exemption from the three or four rule, would draw students out from single-family houses,” Byrd said.

Alternatively, the commission could negatively impact students by choosing to maintain the limit or even to increase Mansfield’s ability to intervene in non-compliant rentals, Byrd said.

The moratorium on multi-family developments could also open the door to a similar hold on single-family rental applications, said Bill Roe, co-founder of the Mansfield Neighborhood Preservation Group.

“I look at this moratorium as a stepping stone to get our moratorium for single-family rental units through so we can have nine months to breathe, too,” Roe said. “Our main concern is the amount of rentals that have been moving into family friendly neighborhoods. It’s basically very disrupting, and there’s getting to be an imbalance in the neighborhoods.”

Roe, who attended UConn and has lived in Mansfield his entire life, said the number of off-campus students living in single-family homes has increased dramatically over the past five or six years. When he was in college, off-campus students used to live in a faculty member’s spare bedroom or converted basement, Roe said, but now they may constitute up to half of Mansfield’s population.

Both university figures and the MNPG’s impact study estimate that over 12,200 graduate and undergraduate students, just under 50 percent of the student body, live off campus.

The demand for rentals in Mansfield has turned the area into a gold mine for absentee landlords who take advantage of students by charging up to $1,000 per person and the community by neglecting their property, Roe said. This can reduce the value of town residents’ homes, increase traffic and disrupt formerly quiet neighborhoods, he said.

“The big solution to this is to have UConn house their students again,” Roe said.

While UConn spokeswoman Stephanie Reitz declined to comment on the moratorium, she said the university has no plans to expand on-campus housing beyond the possibility of fully converting the Nathan Hale Inn into a dormitory.

Additional honors housing on South campus, proposed in UConn’s Master Plan, was put on hold due to state budget cuts that have prevented the university from further expanding enrollment, Reitz said.

“That plan depends not just on what UConn puts into it financially, but on what the state of Connecticut puts into our budget, and the legislature didn’t keep up with that,” Reitz said.

The availability of apartments in Mansfield for students who have year round jobs or want to live independently has taken pressure off of on-campus housing, Reitz said.

“No matter how much on campus housing the university provides, they’re always going to have students who prefer to live off campus and that’s also part of the university experience,” Reitz said.

The decision to postpone construction of the new honors dorm, which would have housed 650 students, indicated that the university is intentionally shifting the burden of student housing onto Mansfield, said Mayor Paul Shapiro in a March 2016 letter to UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy.

“We are concerned beyond measure at the implication of continued enrollment growth without a corresponding increase in on-campus student housing,” said Shapiro in the letter. “Without an adequate supply of on-campus housing for both current and future students, the pressure to meet the housing demands will continue to fall on our community, creating significant impacts on our residents.”

The prevalence of off-campus student housing in Mansfield has also strained the town’s natural systems, said Alison Hilding, a member of the MNPG and the Mansfield Environmental Trust. The moratorium could be a chance for the commission to engage in an intensive environmental study of areas being considered for multi-family housing.

“They need to first understand the potential environmental consequences to any proposed development, and adjust their considered regulations accordingly,” Hilding said.

Mansfield’s wetlands and waterways are particularly vulnerable to development, and will fare best if students are housed on campus, she said.

“If UConn used their own property and engaged in the proper environmental impact evaluations and maintained their property, I think it would relieve the pressure on the Mansfield environment,” Hilding said.


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.