By Kaylee Lindenmuth
In their attempt to address a rising rental vacancy rate in the borough, a task force and consulting firm are putting together a plan and seeking input and feedback in a variety of ways.
Last May, the Borough of Kutztown appointed the Kutztown Housing Strategy Plan Task Force and hired Lackawanna County-based Hailstone Economic to develop a “comprehensive Rental Housing and Downtown Business Strategic Plan,” according to their website: http://www.kutztownhousingplan.com.
In the past month or so, the two groups have conducted research, analysis and community outreach, which included a community meeting on Sept. 25 at Kutztown Area Middle School and a visit to KU Student Government Board on Oct. 22.
Kutztown Borough Manager Gabriel Khalife said the plan will focus on housing and economic development in the borough and added that the community outreach efforts are intended to let the community know what the task force, borough and consultant are doing.
The community meeting was designed to be an interactive, information-gathering meeting, comprised of six different stations, through which attendees gave input on a variety of aspects of the borough: quality of life, community assets, university and community, vision, housing, small business and food.
“People [got] to wander to the six different stations and give us their feedback,” said Sara Hailstone of Hailstone Economic. “We want the public’s feedback on what matters to them as we’re putting this plan together.”
Some stations included boards with different options to vote on, using dots given at the beginning of the meeting. The dots were color-coded to signify if participants were a student at Kutztown Area School District or KU, a non-student borough resident, a non-resident working in the borough or a non-resident altogether. Other stations, like the vision station, involved writing individual feedback.
One station involved writing things they’d like to see in Kutztown on a sticky note, which was then placed on a wall. Examples included, “Unity between University and Kutztown,” “No more pizza” and “Responsive Police.”
“This is part of the consultant’s work in the strategic development process,” said Khalife. “This is one of their strategies to bring out the community and get ideas from the community as to what they think the borough should look at.”
“I really appreciate it,” said Dr. Andrew Vogel, Chair of the English department who lives in the borough. “I like how strategic they’re being, so instead of a conversation where louder voices can dominate, everybody has an opportunity to share within the framework of these general areas.”
The meeting in September was largely attended by borough residents, so on Oct. 22, Hailstone visited the SGB meeting to solicit further feedback from KU students. She asked the student representatives for their input on Kutztown borough, what they want to see change, what issues might exist and how they view the borough itself.
One question posed by Hailstone pertained to what sort of businesses are missing in Kutztown.
SGB Treasurer Isabelle Waddelow stressed diversification in the borough’s business district.
“Lay off pizza joints,” Waddelow said. “If we’re looking at food places, [we need] stuff that has more diversity in it. There were rumors that we were going to get an Ethiopian place, and people were excited, but that never happened.”
Visual and Performing Arts Representative Peyton Williams suggested a store that’d help music majors, like herself.
“Speaking on behalf of the entire music department, [we] would appreciate a little music store, so we could have in-Kutztown music repairs,” said Williams. “It could be something really small, like fixing a pad on a clarinet, or just a place to go and buy reeds or get valve oil.”
“That stuff isn’t available for us in the bookstore, so we don’t want to have to drive half an hour or wait on Amazon to get that stuff,” Williams added.
Williams also suggested converting student housing units into single-family housing, speaking as a soon-to-be graduate.
“I’m considering staying in Kutztown after I graduate, but I don’t necessarily want to still live with students,” Williams added.
President Braden Hudak cited difficulties since the Bieber bus company folded.
“I think a huge loss to the borough has been the last year or so since the Bieber bus station failed,” Hudak said. “That’s a complaint I hear a lot from students. There’s a lot of students who used to rely on that to get to Philadelphia or New York or closer areas.”
“It’s disappointing that the borough hasn’t been more aggressive in trying to get another company in here,” Hudak added.
The task force, according to its website, hopes to have the draft plan completed in November and the final plan approved by the borough council in December.