Saturday, March 8, 2008

F&M's goal: "To Transform Lancaster City"

(Letter from "concerned citizen" courtesy of Looking at Lancaster)


John Fry, several months prior to his inauguration as president of Franklin and Marshall College, presented his vision for transforming Lancaster into a "vibrant College town" in a 38-page paper titled, "F&M College Strategic Planning White Paper." This paper, dated January 27, 2003, lists his name as the sole author. It became the foundation of the "Campus Master Plan 2004", which uses much of the same terminology.

The White Paper contains statements that define President Fry's view of the relationship between the College and the City. Some of these statements suggest the appropriation of certain public services that are the responsibility of City department heads. The result of this, even if well intended, is the blurring of the distinctions between public property and private property, also civic vs. private suzerainty. The question, in time, becomes, "Who does what and who is in charge of whom?"

An example of this blurring is seen in "Goal II - Strengthen the Campus Community". Under "Strategies - E", is an item that reads: "Ensure that the campus and its surrounding neighborhood and park are vibrant, safe and clean places." Under that heading is this statement: "Through skillful security and police protection, lighting, landscaping, communication devices, electronic security... we can make our campus and surrounding neighborhoods a better environment for all..."

Both the park and the surrounding neighborhood (with the exception of some college-owned properties on College Ave. and Race Ave.) are city property. Citizens ask: why should John Fry be making plans for public property? And especially since the College pays no money to the city in lieu-of-taxes, whereas the city homeowners see their school and city real estate taxes rise every year?

Under "Strategy A - Enhance Public Safety throughout the area", Fry lists some of the services to the City that the College will be providing: "bicycle patrols, street cleaning, tree-trimming and graffiti removal; streetscape management, with specific attention being paid to landlords ... marketing the area as a great place to live ... lighting, signage, street furniture, traffic calming and the like."

Why should F&M be making decisions for the city on traffic calming projects on streets that are city (public) streets - not campus streets? Shouldn't the city traffic engineer be doing this? F&M's first traffic calming project was the "bumped-out curbs" and traffic table on College Ave. that caused a dangerous situation for vehicles and pedestrians, resulting in at least one accident and several reported near accidents. The College Ave. homeowners were neither given advance information about this project, nor an opportunity to comment on it.

There was also an attempt to by-pass neighborhood input and approval with the traffic calming project on Race Ave.: F&M tried to get City approval for this project BEFORE any Race Ave. resident was told that the College wanted to make major and permanent changes to their street – where a sizable number of these homeowners have lived for 30 to 60 years. And the Harrisburg Pike median strip was built, even though a petition by citizens opposing the median strip, citing safety concerns, was sent to PennDOT and to City officials.

Of special interest in Fry's "White Paper" is the section titled "GOAL III - DEEPEN AND ENRICH THE COLLEGE'S TIES TO LANCASTER CITY". A statement that illustrates Fry's mind-set is: "First, the fortunes of Lancaster and Franklin & Marshall are inextricably bound ... the better known and more highly regarded the College is, the better off the City will be – what city wouldn't like to have a nationally renowned liberal arts college in its midst, one with which it has deep and extensive relationship?"

Under the heading "D. Strategy - Create exciting 'college-town' commercial corridors along Harrisburg Pike and College Avenue", John Fry speaks of development: "My hope is to work with the real estate development community to identify and eventually develop attractive, well-located sites for food, entertainment and cultural establishments along Harrisburg Pike and College Avenue. The area around the College should look and feel more like a 'college town', buzzing with activity at all hours of the day, a real magnet for people."

Fry continues, "College Avenue also provides a very interesting set of possibilities for commercial development. Unlike Harrisburg Pike, which must be tamed, calmed and re-scaled for pedestrians, College Avenue enjoys a wonderful scale, and with the right interventions (lighting, street furniture, trees) could have a terrific ambiance. Several properties might lend themselves to small scale retail uses (used bookstores, coffee houses), which would complement the larger developments along the Pike." (Question: Will College Ave., be rezoned to allow for these commercial establishments?)

Under "GOAL V - C. Strategy - Seek non-traditional sources of financial support: corporations, foundations, state and federal government, private ventures", he discusses the use of third-party investors: "To the extent we can demonstrate to developers that we have strong demand for residential, retail and other commercial amenities, and in some cases even own or control key pieces of real estate where these activities can occur, then we might be the beneficiaries of third-party investors willing to take on risk and invest with the College..."

Fry continues, "In all cases regarding commercial development, we must decide about the level of control we need to have in the venture ... the more control we wish, the more investment the College will be expected to make. This is the reality of doing business with private investors who are driven primarily by the need for a sufficient return on their capital."

Under "D. Strategy - Create a single, continuous campus with space to accommodate long-term growth and expansion", there is an obvious reference to the median strips (one of which has already been constructed): "We need more and better linkages to our holdings on the other side of the Pike. One of the major focal points of our upcoming campus physical planning study will be developing ways of forging friendlier and more pleasing connections between these two areas." (John Fry does not reveal that he has plans to remove the attractive overhead walkway at College Square that was built in 1991 specifically for the purpose of linking the two campuses. It was also designed to provide for pedestrian safety in crossing the Pike, which is a busy state highway.)

John Fry's intrusion into civic affairs and into the lives of citizens - who, unlike F&M, pay taxes - is unnerving. And he appears to be continually striving to expand his sphere of influence. Indeed, some residents are referring to him as "Mayor Fry," and one expression making the rounds is: "When John Fry says 'jump,' City officials jump." Because of this perception, many citizens are choosing to become inactive and silent on community affairs. This results in a loss of "brain power" of some of the City's best educated and most productive citizens - due to the undue influence of the president of a non-profit, multi-million dollar private corporation.

Lancaster City can and should stand free and proud on its own history and institutions and its officials can and should make decisions based on public - not private - interests. Citizens of Lancaster do not need to be dictated to by an overly-ambitious College president whose decisions are based on what's good for the College and who frequently disregards the stated wishes and opinions of the citizens of Lancaster.