Retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez responds to a Connecticut Post article–Bridgeport, Sacred Heart at odds over student population in North End–with suggestions to alleviate “the student invasion of North End neighborhoods in recent years.” She is an alumna of the university.
I graduated from Sacred Heart University (SHU) more years ago than I care to admit. At that time, the mission of SHU was to provide the benefits of a Catholic education to working-class families in the Greater Bridgeport Area, primarily as a commuter college.
Dr. Michael W. Higgens, in a report entitled “1963 … Year One of the SHU experience” provides some history of the founding of the University. According to the report, which can be found on the SHU website, Bishop Walter W. Curtis, the first chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University “saw the new college as very much a Diocese of Bridgeport entity.”
I received a good education which prepared me for law school and a career in the law.
I used to say, I was a “proud” Sacred Heart Alum.
However, having read Brian Lockhart’s October 11, 2019 article in the CT Post and having witnessed first-hand the student invasion of North End neighborhoods in recent years, and SHU’s indifferent response, I must say I am not as “proud” of my SHU pedigree as I once was.
The article is a testimony both to the frustration of beleaguered North End residents and taxpayers, and the arrogance of the University, which seems to have abandoned an original mission statement which was founded on principles of care and concern for Bridgeport families.
This arrogance and disdain for the people of Bridgeport sadly demonstrates that a “Catholic” university has learned little from the revelation that even Princes of the Church preferred clerical cover-ups to pastoring a flock in need of nurture.
But that is another story.
The CT Post article addressed the situation of student renters, whose presence has disturbed the quiet enjoyment of homeowners in Bridgeport’s North End.
Deb Noack, the SHU spokesman, revealed the university’s callous indifference to the plight of the North end residents in the article. Ms. Noack, heralded money spent by students in Bridgeport and smugly proclaimed that SHU students are “now part of the North End fabric and are here to stay.”
Meanwhile, City officials have failed to significantly address this situation, and instead have resorted to election-year rhetoric and posturing. This does nothing to explain the absence of meaningful action by the City of Bridgeport.
What is called for immediately is a concerted effort employing the resources and the authority of both the City of Bridgeport and Sacred Heart University.
What is NOT needed is political grandstanding, by politicians in search of votes, or the smug sanctimony of the SHU hierarchy.
Sacred Heart can take action to address this crisis. The university should not be permitted to play Pontius Pilate and wash its hands of a problem which its growth and expansion has created. It is simply inaccurate to say that the University is powerless to address this situation and here is why.
Sacred Heart should, if it does not do so already, require students, as a condition of student enrollment, to file a copy of any lease agreement with the University.
Furthermore, all students living in rental housing should be required as condition of enrollment to sign a document that they are in compliance with occupancy requirements contained in the Bridgeport Zoning Regulations. Access to this material should be made available to zoning officials of the City of Bridgeport.
The Bridgeport Planning and Zoning Commission can also be proactive, as suggested in the CT Post article.
The definition of “household” could be amended, however any change in the Zoning Regulations would be futile and cosmetic, without enforcement by the Zoning Enforcement Officer of the City of Bridgeport, Dennis Buckley and his staff.
In the article, long-serving City Council member Michelle Lyons was quoted as saying that there are “five, six, eight students in a house.” If true, this situation is a violation of Bridgeport’s existing zoning regulations. Instead of concentrating exclusively on the University, perhaps Council member Lyons should address her criticism to the Bridgeport Zoning Department and seek additional funding for enforcement of existing regulations.
Efforts to address the problem cannot stop with simply amending the Zoning Regulations; money and resources should be dedicated to enforcing our zoning laws.
We all know that laws, in the absence of enforcement, mean nothing. Passing a law, in and of itself, has never solved a problem.
Council member Lyons, along with Council member Pete Spain have sponsored a new ordinance outlawing the parking of vehicles on one’s own property. This ordinance is shamefully abusive to law-abiding residents and does nothing to seriously address the problem.
The City Council might also consider increasing the fines for zoning violations, in order to put pressure on the property owners as well as the students.
In order to accomplish any of these reforms, however, the City Council must ignore any advice given by our City Attorney’s Office, which is sure to say that anything substantive cannot be done.
Most importantly, residents must keep up the pressure after Election Day November 5, 2019.
A special thanks to the CT Post for highlighting this issue.