One of the first salvos in the race for three seats on the Flagstaff City Council was fired Thursday, but it didn’t come at City Hall.
Adam Shimoni, one of six candidates, addressed the Arizona Board of Regents during their monthly meeting held this month in Flagstaff at the High Country Conference Center.
After the regents heard from Flagstaff ‘s city manager and NAU’s president about more communication in the quest for better town-gown relations, Shimoni took a different tack.
“Students are still taking over the town,” Shimoni said. “I know NAU is talking with the city. Their liaison has been holding open houses and talking to residents. They are listening but they’re not acting on the facts.”
Neither the city nor the university, he said, has offered a solution to some of the problems caused by the surging student enrollment on housing affordability and availability, growing traffic congestion and quality of life in neighborhoods near campus.
It’s not for lack of face-to-face communication, however. Interim City Manager Barbara Goodrich told the regents that representatives from the city and NAU meet on a regular basis, maybe two or three times a week, to discuss concerns about the growth in enrollment, traffic, parking and the activities of students living off campus.
And NAU President Rita Cheng touted the university’s efforts to engage with the city through community service by students and faculty. She also pointed to the liaison position as an effort to understand the concerns of Flagstaff residents.
“NAU is committed to serving the community; it is written in our mission and we take our role to heart. We recognize and value the opportunities to work together with the community – ranging from student conduct to transportation to housing,” Cheng said in an emailed statement to the Arizona Daily Sun. “I am committed to engaging further and deepening relationships with the community. This can be seen through the addition of two key outreach positions – Emily Allen, Assistant Vice President for Community Relations and Valeria Chase, Program Manager for Off-Campus Life and Neighborhood Liaison.”
Cheng said Allen and Chase are “spending considerable time out in the community listening to and learning from residents. They are using this information to expand and enrich the ways in which we honor the needs of the community.”
At Thursday’s meeting, one resident, who didn’t identify himself, said that he supported the mission of the university but its growth has had a “deleterious effect on the city.” There needed to be a better partnership between the city and the university on how to manage the growth. He asked that ABOR reconsider the enrollment growth goals it gave to NAU in 2015.
Enrollment growth and housing
In 2015, ABOR set an NAU enrollment goal of 36,000 students by 2025, with about two-thirds attending NAU’s Flagstaff campus. The remaining one-third would attend NAU’s satellite campuses or online classes. This year’s enrollment was around 23,000 students in Flagstaff.
The university will have beds for about 11,000 students on campus this coming year, one of the highest bed counts of any university in the country. The remainder of the students live off campus in apartments and rental homes.
The crush of students moving off-campus is forcing families who have lived in those neighborhoods for generations to move out of the city, Shimoni said.
The university has added housing units on campus. NAU opened the new Skyview dorm last fall and is currently working on a new honors college building that will house both classrooms and 630 beds for students.
But Shimoni said that still not enough and he hasn’t heard any possible solutions for the problem from either the city or NAU. His suggestion would be to build more housing for students on campus. If the university chose areas that are at a lower elevation than the north campus then they could build higher and not block the view.
Cheng has said in the past that she doesn’t believe in putting a cap on enrollment at the university. At a community forum in March at the Museum of Northern Arizona, Cheng said, “We are working hard to stay even in our enrollment.”
The university was not growing out of control and putting a cap on enrollment could put the university at risk, she said.
Cheng has also declined to build more housing on campus in the past. She has stated that building on-campus presents a risk to the university that those dorms may not be filled.
Shimoni said the large rent-by-the-room apartment complexes geared toward students being built off-campus, such as The Hub and The Standard, aren’t much of a solution.
These types of developments also take over historic neighborhoods and push out residents who have lived there for years, he said. They change the makeup of the neighborhood and create traffic hazards and parking issues.
“These things belong on campus,” Shimoni said.
Shimoni also believes President Cheng has a conflict of interest when it comes to housing for students. Part of the $180,000 bonus she got from the Arizona Board of Regents this year was tied to increasing enrollment at the university.
Shimoni said he doesn’t believe there’s anything wrong in her getting a bonus for meeting ABOR’s goals on enrollment, but she’s not looking at the effects that increase in enrollment. She doesn’t seem to have an interest in helping to alleviate some of the pressure the increase in students is having on the city and the surrounding neighborhoods.
There have been some improvements over the years, Shimoni said.
“They are doing a bunch of great things,” he said. The community liaison has been talking and listening to the residents. The university and city have reached out to students living off-campus to educate them on ways be respectful of their neighbors when it comes to parties and such.
In 2015, the city adopted a new nuisance party ordinance that allows police to fine both party hosts and landlords for repeat noisy parties that occur within 90 days on their properties. From July to September of 2015, the police had issued 25 first party notices and one second party notice. Between August and December of last year, the department issued 98 first party notices and three second party notices.
The university is also holding a Community Welcome event in August on the first day of classes.
The event will partner NAU police, faculty, staff and students with City of Flagstaff police and staff to walk around some of the neighborhoods close to campus to talk with long-term residents and students about living in the neighborhoods.
“This will help our students understand the responsibility they have living in the neighborhood and help long-term residents know they have a voice and that the City and NAU are working together on their behalf,” Cheng said in a statement emailed to the Daily Sun.