Residents concerned over student housing

City Council has yet more impetus to re-examine its student housing ordinance, after Ivyside-area neighbors complained this week about the second required approval in a month by the Zoning Hearing Board of a student house that met the criteria for a special exception.
After hearing about the second house, which is on the dead-end 500 block of East 26th Avenue in Ivyside, council reiterated its intention to hold a meeting to discuss the issues, after Planning Director Lee Slusser gathers information.
Before the complaint to council, a delegation of the Ivyside neighbors warned owner Daniel Detrich that it’ll be watching for bad behavior from his tenants, and Detrich didn’t flinch.
“This neighborhood is extremely quiet,” said neighbor Sheryl Marshall said. “If anything goes on there — anything — you’re going to be in trouble.”
“If something illegal happens, please call the police,” Detrich said.
“We don’t want to come across as mean or arrogant — welcome,” said neighbor Wanita Baumgardner, who addressed Detrich repeatedly as “honey.” “But if I ever get blocked in, I’m a raving b—-.”
Detrich told the neighbors he gets his tenants’ parents “involved” and tells the students they’re there by special permission, and that they should make friends, reach out and even shovel sidewalks for the neighbors.
“Rarely do I have complaints,” he said.
Asked why he doesn’t rent to “a nice single family,” Detrich said “economics.”
Student housing is one of the few profitable [rental] ventures in Altoona, he said.
“I’ll be sweet to you, if you’re sweet to me,” said Baumgardner, who told Detrich she was “mayor” of the block. “We can be a team if you’re a team player.”
As required for that neighborhood, Detrich’s property has two off-street parking spaces for the three students he intends to house.
The street is narrow. The house is at the end. There’s not a cul-de-sac, and neighbors worried that even a few visitors with cars could create congestion and block driveways.
The house is also at least 250 feet from any other student house.
There’s a house with students closer — just across the street — but it’s not technically a student house because its owner lives there.
Neighbor Richard Mar­shall, who came to council with Sheryl Marshall, asked why council can’t eliminate that exemption from the ordinance.
Council passed it in 2009, and it has slowed the proliferation of student houses — with a net gain of only 10 or 11 since then, said Councilman Bruce Kelley.
“Of course, if it’s right beside you, that doesn’t [help],” he said.
Scott Campanaro, a city employee and resident of the 300 block of Seventh Avenue, a gritty area of the city, expressed a different perspective at the council meeting.
“Come to our neighborhood,” he said, addressing student housing landlords. “We need people fixing up houses and putting in people who are going places and doing things.”
Regardless, it’s probably time to revisit the rules, Kelley said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.