To the Editor:
A homeowner in Narragansett, I take issue with Joseph Lembo’s position that the 3-Student Limit ignores the facts. Lembo and Narragansett 2100 miss the perspective of year-round residents entirely.
Because the town lacks proper Planning and Zoning, real estate speculators are allowed to take single-family homes and convert them into student housing. These former single-family homes, now function as boarding houses and short-term rental businesses, significantly changing the character of our neighborhoods. This ‘change in use’ happens without notice to neighbors or even an opportunity to voice opposition of this de-facto zoning change. Homeowners seeking to install fences and sheds are required to apply and be approved for a permit to make such changes; however, this is more scrutiny than is required by speculators to convert homes to short-term rentals. Prior to approval, business proposals abutting residential neighborhoods are required to address noise, traffic, parking, and safety concerns. Yet, similar requirements do not apply when converting single-family homes to dormitories.
When we purchased our home 20 years ago, we bought a house in a neighborhood of other families/couples, intentionally avoiding buying a home in a neighborhood with student rentals. Over time, as families moved, two homes across the street were converted to student housing, changing our neighborhood substantially.
Let’s face it: The lives and rhythms of college students are different from that of typical families. They stay up late. They have friends over frequently who come and go, making noise at all times of day and night. They regularly have overnight guests so that houses rented to 4 students have 5-8 cars parked on the street and yard on any given night. They think nothing of shouting obscenities even though young children live nearby. All of these annoyances require us to keep our windows closed and use a sound machine to sleep, missing out on the fresh air coming in our windows and sounds we love: toads, crickets, cicada. While student noise is disrespectful of neighbors, it’s not inherently illegal. When we have complained to landlords, we’ve been told to simply contact the police. Managing student housing is a planning and zoning issue and should not be relegated to Narragansett Police force to address rude, discourteous, and oblivious behavior of college students.
In every other situation, when a property changes ‘uses,’ whether to open a new business or convert a house into apartments, zoning rules apply, just not if you are converting a single-family dwelling into student housing. The 3-person rule begins to restore the balance from what has been the town’s perverse priority for the rights of landlords/real estate investors to make money over the rights of resident homeowners. The continuing degradation of residents’ quality of life is inextricably linked with the quality of our community. What is our vision for the future of Narragansett? Are we simply to be a source of off-campus housing for URI and short-term rentals or a true community of friends and neighbors, young and old, living and loving the town, we call home?