Fairfield University plans to launch a brand new housing unit for the Fall 2019 school year. This new housing unit will comprise of three-story townhouse buildings that including living and dining rooms in addition to single rooms. The houses will include 200 beds in total.
The current townhouses are a housing option that many students look forward to living in during their junior year, set back behind the athletic fields and away from central campus life with porches that allow for social interaction between neighbors. The townhouses provide students with the opportunity to find new independence through cooking, cleaning and living in a more “homey” environment rather than a communal Residence Hall. With this year’s cockroach infestation that left some juniors living in sophomore-housing Loyola Hall, some students show excitement for an upgraded upperclassmen housing option. However, others, including some citizens of the town of Fairfield, are hesitant about the proposal.
During an Oct. 23 Town Plan and Zoning Commission meeting, Attorney John Fallon represented Fairfield University and commented on the possible installation of the new townhouses.
“It [Fairfield University] has grown in stature and has reached a height of vibrance and economic developments; we want to continue that relationship.To do this we have to maintain facilities that meet the needs and requirements of a very competitive student marketplace,” explained Fallon. “These townhouses benefit the community by providing a housing product with independence and ambiance that meets demands of students today.”
Constructing the new additional townhouses will require the destruction of Fairfield’s oldest structure on campus – 19th century Sturges farm. During the Town Plan and Zoning Commission meeting, Fallon addressed concerns about taking down the historical barn by comparing it to Bellarmine Hall, indicating that it’s not the same caliber as Bellarmine’s historical importance.
According to an email sent to President Mark R. Nemec, Ph.D., from the Fairfield Museum, the farm was once part of Sprawling Farm and Orchard and was owned by Frederick Sturges, Sr. This estate was originally 1,000 acres in size and was part of the land that Walter Lashar purchased when he built the estate that eventually became Fairfield University. The email goes on to explain that the, “architects who designed the Fairfield Museum’s current building used this barn as inspiration.”
One citizen, who was not contacted in reference in this article, raised a question in an email addressed to the Town Plan and Zoning Commission. The citizen asked, “Why do they [Fairfield University] need to tear down part of the town’s history for new dorms? And, more importantly, why aren’t they putting money toward maintaining the dorms of North Benson Road [the current townhouses]?”
Vice President for Facilities Management, David Frassinelli, explained that the University does plan to upgrade the current townhouses in addition to the construction of the new ones. “We completed three [townhouse blocs] last summer and plan on completing the rest over the next few summers,” said Frassinelli.
The Town of Fairfield resident continued, “Once historic buildings are gone, you can never get them back … It just doesn’t make sense to erase history.”
The emails sent to the TPZ and the University are public record and are available to access at town hall.
During the Oct. 23 meeting, Fallon also commented on the coexisting relationship between Fairfield University and the town of Fairfield.
“As a Jesuit University it’s how we approach the relationship with our neighbors,” said Fallon. “As a result from the commitment we have made to maintain and manage our campus, surrounding neighborhoods have benefitted from property values.”
Frasinelli also mentioned the economic benefit of Fairfield University to the town of Fairfield. “The University has been here since 1942 and has been a key driver for much of the economic development in both the town of Fairfield and the state of CT. With over 20,000 alumni living in the state, and over 12,000 in Fairfield County alone, the economic contribution our alumni have made is significant,” said Frasinelli.
However, Fairfield residents did not echo Fallon or Frasinelli’s enthusiasm. In an email addressed to members of the TPZ Commission, another Fairfield resident expressed their sentiments on the construction of new townhouses and how they would hinder rather than benefit property values.
“Fairfield University does not pay property taxes to the Town of Fairfield. The residents of Winton Park do,” said the resident. “The new dormitory because of its close proximity to the residential area of Winton Park will cast a ‘shadow’ upon the properties of Winton Park … increased traffic of students shooting through Winton Park and the garbage they will throw out the window (they do it now because I find it regularly … it will increase dramatically once the 200 students move in). The presence of 200 students, together with the noise, congestion and pollution they will generate will … drive down the value of homes in Winton Park.”
Frasinelli addressed the positive relationship between Fairfield University and town residents.
“The University maintains a meticulously landscaped campus … has paved sidewalks around our campus when there was a noted concern for safety, meets regularly with neighbors both in group sessions and in 1-1’s to inform the community on current events, and responds quickly to the needs of our neighbors,” said Frasinelli. “We also open our campus to the community for a wide range of events, including athletics, arts and other traditions like the Christmas Tree Lighting. We host camps for many local kids over the summers, attend events at local schools and within the community, sponsor many Chamber of Commerce, Town and other local events, and engage the community with programs such as the Lil’ Stags.”
“We are absolutely comfortable with any conditions of approval to further the screening of our property as it relates to our development to more protect the neighbors. We value our relationship with this commission,” said Fallon. “Since I came to Fairfield University in 1967, many years had student housing very proximate to the residential properties to upper Round Hill Road. These have not had any adverse impact to Round Hill Road or adjacent neighbors. We’ve had the townhouses for decades and have lived in coexistence with North Benson neighbors without any insertions or complaints.”
In addition to the new townhouses, Fairfield plans to upgrade the current batting cages for Men’s Baseball and Women’s Softball. The proposal involves the construction of walls surrounding the current batting cages so that the batting cages can be used during inclimate weather. This will allow both teams to practice year-round while limiting the amount of noise due to the new indoor atmosphere. The new enclosure will not be air-conditioned.
Fairfield University also created a new proposal for the current existing Central Utilities Facility on campus. They proposed a small addition to the already existing building, in the center of campus, for relocation of University electricians. This will allow for closer collaboration between mechanical and electrical trades and will provide additional space for storage facilities.