The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Rave

December 13, 2012

Address residents' worries on rentals

Fifty Monroe Township residents attended a Monroe Township zoning hearing board meeting to express their concerns about a plan to build Mill Road Garden Apartments, a 100-unit apartment and townhouse complex behind the Susquehanna Valley Mall.

Home Leasing II, of Rochester, N.Y., is purchasing the 22-acre property and plans to build one- to three-bedroom apartments for income-eligible residents and one-bedroom apartments for seniors and handicapped residents.

Residents expressed varying degrees of opposition. After hearing concerns about the impact of a large apartment complex on the municipal infrastructure, government services, and nearby property values, the hearing board put off a decision until the township's planning commission has an opportunity to review the proposal.

The developer asserted that Mill Road Garden would be different than traditional public housing, but residents who attended the hearing did not seem to accept the distinction.

The opposition for the most part should not be considered as a statement about any particular population.

The residents, rather, are expressing a fear that government will be unable or unwilling to ensure that an affordable housing apartment complex could be managed responsibly in a way that does not negatively impact their neighborhood.

The evidence is all around that communities that welcome an influx of rental housing find themselves dealing with social problems involving the resources of police, welfare agencies and the schools. Communities that want to be inclusive can adapt. But too often, there is not enough planning before rental housing is approved and inadequate enforcement once it is built.

There are tools available for communities to prohibit landlords from renting to convicted criminals. There are certainly measures that the township could take to handle any increase in traffic or demand for utility service.

In a response to a resident's question, the developer said that there will be criminal background checks on all residents. Municipal leaders ought to consider whether they have appropriate codes in place to ensure that there is a mechanism for holding any developer accountable if criminals take up residence. Any developer aiming to be a responsible neighbor will not object to reasonable measures to protect the public's interest.

Residents have raised the alarm. It is now up to municipal leaders to demonstrate that the necessary safeguards are in place to manage Mill Road Gardens or any other large rental complex that comes along.

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