Column: Capital, Bexley residents need to learn to live together

Is the latest conflict between Capital University and its Bexley neighbors an example of the seemingly eternal and inevitable clash of "town and gown," or is there a deeper breach of trust that must be healed?

I think it’s both.

Capital, left in a financial lurch by its last treasurer and in need of updated student housing, is asking Bexley City Council for a variance to rezone condominiums on Astor Avenue, currently restricted to residents age 55 and over, for use as dorm rooms.

The age restriction was requested and included in the condo bylaws several years ago over concerns about introducing more students (and an anticipated increase in noise and trash) to the residential neighborhood.

Residents have been showing up at recent council meetings to voice those same complaints, while the lawyers argue the arcane points of zoning regulations.

One note sounds above all the others – these residents don’t consider Capital University and its students to be good neighbors.

Having lived and worked in Athens for many years, I frequently heard these kinds of complaints about Ohio University students who leave cars on residential streets, and pizza boxes and beer cans on tree lawns.

I live close to Capital, although not close enough to experience much of this spill-over. But I still pick up beer cans from the park across the street left by teenagers, and I have called the police when things got out of hand. Response time is quick.

Bad behavior is never acceptable, although everyone realizes that young people away from home for the first time will get out of hand from time to time.

It is up to the university and local law enforcement to enforce the boundaries of acceptable behavior.

Based on the reports of residents, a better job needs to be done in this area.

But, like a married couple that has slept in the same bed for many years, Capital and Bexley can’t clash every time one of them rolls over.

City and campus officials agonized over the construction of Capital’s athletic center, with dire warnings about traffic jams and other woes thrown about.

Most of the worst predictions have not come to pass.

The closing of Mound Street drew criticism, although I think most (but not all) residents would agree that the pedestrian mall has been a positive development.

Capital’s latest request is fairly modest, involving 30 apartments for 60 students, limited to upperclassmen in good academic standing.

But it has still stirred up a hornet’s nest of stinging accusations, some of which, no doubt, are warranted.

The key issue here is trust.

With the adoption of the Southwest Master Plan in 2003, Capital and Bexley officials hailed a new era in cooperation.

It appears that this has not trickled down to the homeowners.

With new administrations at Capital and in Bexley, there is another opportunity to meet and work together to build ties, not just between the president’s and the mayor’s offices, but on a street level,  as well.

I think it would go a long way to build bridges to have Capital President Denvy Bowman show up at the next City Council meeting or meet with residents to discuss complaints and possible solutions.

Or he could show up at some of these trouble spots and let his students know what is expected of them. Maybe he could take Bexley resident and Ohio State President Gordon Gee with him for star power.

Student leaders should be involved, as well, in convincing their peers that there is a difference between having a good time and making a nuisance of yourself.

Residents need to realize the economic and cultural benefits an institution such as Capital offers, from the money spent by employees and students to the free art and music programs available on campus.

Hopefully, this outweighs a stereo occasionally turned up a little loud.

Trust takes a moment to break and a long time to mend, but the first gestures have to be made to start the healing process.

Bexley is unimaginable without Capital University and all it has to offer. And I doubt Capital students would want attend classes in the middle of nowhere and do without all the things available in the Bexley community.

These bedfellows just have to figure out how to share the blanket that is big enough for both.

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