Towson U., group to meet

Impact of off-campus housing on community to be discussed when Caret, local leaders gather tonight

February 16, 2006|By LAURA BARNHARDT | LAURA BARNHARDT,SUN REPORTER

Mike Ertel says he expects tonight's meeting between Towson community leaders and Towson University's president to be cordial.

But one of the topics up for discussion -- off-campus student housing -- has long been a source of town-and-gown tension. And the university is expected to grow significantly in the coming years.

"I don't think there's the major animosity between residents and the university that some people perceive," said Ertel, the new president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations. But, he added, "there are concerns, more in some communities than others."

Tonight will be the first time that Robert L. Caret, Towson University's president, has addressed the umbrella organization for neighborhood groups, which lobbied against a developer's plans last year to build a residence hall for Towson University students as part of the proposed Towson Circle III project near the heart of town.

"There's no grudge about Towson Circle," Ertel said. "People just want Towson to be vibrant for residents and students."

The university rejected a bid last year by Heritage Properties and Cordish Co. to build a 600-bed dormitory for Towson University students at Towson Circle III, which is to include a large restaurant, shops and offices, near the York Road roundabout.

University officials say there are more students seeking on-campus housing than there are rooms. And they expect enrollment to increase more than 40 percent in the next decade.

Caret was not available for comment yesterday. James P. Sheehan, Towson University's new vice president for administration and finance and chief financial officer, said that officials are trying to make room for freshmen and sophomores on campus and hope to have a new on-campus residence hall open in the fall of 2008. The university plans to seek proposals for that project this year.

Enrollment at Towson is expected to increase by about 1,000 next year. About 40 percent of the additional students are expected to be freshmen, said Sheehan.

"Our goal with our growth is to maintain the current ratio of undergraduate students housed on campus," Sheehan said.

Towson University currently has 3,400 beds on campus for about 15,000 undergraduate students, according to Deb Moriarty, vice president for student affairs. By 2015, the university expects enrollment of about 20,000 undergraduates and expects to add 2,000 to 3,000 more dorm beds by then, Moriarty said.

The university gives freshmen and sophomores preference when assigning dorm rooms, leaving most juniors and seniors to find housing off-campus. Upperclassman who want to live on campus are assigned rooms using a lottery system.

In 2000, Millennium Hall opened on university grounds under the management of a private company.

"We'd prefer our [undergraduate students] to be on campus," said Sheehan. "There's more to the university experience than going to class and going home."

Some community leaders complain that nearby residents are the ones who will feel the growing pains of the university. Those residents say they worry that increased enrollment will bring more student parties in otherwise quiet neighborhoods, and more unkempt rental properties.

The meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Sheppard Pratt Conference Center, 6501 N. Charles St. in Towson.

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

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