The relationship between a college and its surrounding community is almost always a complicated one, with points of friction and discontent balanced against opportunities for mutual assistance and progress.
The relationship between Iona and the City of New Rochelle is no exception. Iona is among New Rochelle’s largest employers, a planning and economic anchor for the North Avenue corridor, an attractor that draws thousands of people, and an engine of upward mobility for its students, many of whom become permanent residents after graduating. At the same time, the neighborhoods near Iona are often impacted by student behavior (or misbehavior), traffic volume, and parking demands, as well as by growth patterns that can dramatically reshape the physical character of an entire block.
Most people recognize that college and community interests are ultimately bound together, and that we can benefit most fully by working side by side in a climate of mutual respect and understanding. But too often we become trapped instead in rigid, reactive debates, as in the battle surrounding Iona’s plans for a new 10-story dormitory on Mayflower Avenue. What should ideally be a common effort to achieve common solutions becomes a zero-sum fight.
That is why the news I share today is so positive and significant.
Yesterday morning, Iona’s new President, Dr. Joseph Nyre, and I, joined by several neighborhood leaders, launched a collaborative planning process aimed at taking a fresh look at the College’s development. With resident input and participation, the City and Iona will examine options for addressing student housing objectives and other priorities, while also improving the economy and quality of life of the larger community. I am personally hopeful that the North Avenue corridor will be a major focus of examination, but our analysis will commence without prejudgment.
Until at least the conclusion of this joint planning process, Iona will voluntarily withdraw its application for the Mayflower dormitory. Meanwhile, the City will raise the local occupancy standards for Iona’s existing dormitories for the next two academic years to make them consistent with those of the Fire Code and the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York. (Although a change in local law, this will not produce a change in facts on the ground, because we have learned in recent days that occupancy levels in the dorms have exceeded local limits for several years — a condition Iona’s new leadership had been prepared to correct.)
If our planning efforts succeed, then one or both of these actions might be made permanent. If our efforts do not succeed, then circumstances would simply revert to the status quo. In other words, for all parties, there’s a big potential upside, but no real downside. And what had been a big, messy fight becomes a classic win-win.
As we move forward, all sides will have to demonstrate an open mind, appreciation for different points of view, and a spirit of compromise. I do not underestimate the scope of the challenge, but based on the strong support and enthusiasm of College and neighborhood representatives — individuals who just days ago were locked in a contentious struggle — I am optimistic about our prospects.
This new way forward began coming together over an informal breakfast that Dr. Nyre and I shared last month, just a few days after he took office, and it continued taking shape through many conversations in the days since. In the short span of his presidency, Dr. Nyre has impressed me as a leader of great skill, sensitivity, and strategic vision, and I look forward to working with him as a partner for the common good of Iona and our community.