In just over a decade, Stony Brook has made an impressive journey from a commuter school to a flagship university in the state system. The needed housing and amenities have yet to complete the trip.
The university has been chronically short of dormitory space, with 400 commonly on the waiting list. Over the years, three beds have been packed into rooms for two, and the number of semesters students could live on campus has been limited. The result is a diminished student experience and a history of conflicts with a suburban community that can’t absorb the intense demand for housing and undergraduate activities that come with it.
The administration has been building dorms, but a comprehensive land-use effort is finally taking place, smartly taking the public-private partnership route. The university is inviting developers to submit a mixed-use plan that will “deliver a dynamic Campus Village” to its 1,367-acre main campus, as well as to consider fresh possibilities for its satellite sites in Calverton and Southampton. Under this arrangement, and if the State Legislature approves, the university will lease land to developers to design, manage and finance new housing, along with dining, recreation, parking, medical offices and academic space. The plan is for market-rate and affordable housing for students and faculty that doesn’t require university funding.
Stony Brook University’s suburban location presents knotty challenges. Housing in this affluent area is expensive, and zoning laws permit only three unrelated occupants in single-family home. Often, illegal rentals have three or four times that number. Parties attract hundreds. Complaints to Brookhaven Town about noise and illegal rentals are constant.
The safety of the students is also a concern in makeshift apartments that don’t have safety alarms. At the start of the semester, police responded to 911 calls after a deck collapsed at a East Setauket home, dropping 50 people 10 feet. There were more than 300 people at the fraternity party. The owner had just been in court for illegally renting the house in a prior semester and had promised he would stop. He now could face $18,000 in fines. Town code enforcement officials must have the resources to develop a database of rental properties, their owners and their history of citations to better monitor likely violators.
While the university will eventually have more housing, Brookhaven officials can help alleviate the shortage by allowing private developers to build student housing off campus, especially units designed for graduate students and faculty with families. Successful town-and-gown relationships are based on the mutual respect that deepens with interaction between the two communities. — The editorial board