Niagara Falls targets NU off-campus student housing

Jan. 15—NIAGARA FALLS — The Niagara Falls City Council has begun the process of amending the city's zoning code to further restrict so-called "group living arrangements" in residentially zoned neighborhoods.

The council unanimously approved a resolution last week that would send to the Falls and Niagara County planning boards a zoning ordinance amendment that would more strictly define the terms "family," "group living" and "Duplex/Semi Detached." The goal of the amendment, according to the resolution, is to address years of conflict over the widespread use of single-family residences, primarily in the DeVeaux neighborhood, as housing for students attending Niagara University.

The proposed amendment was first introduced to the council in December by former Council Member Kenny Tompkins. It was re-introduced by new Council Chair James Perry.

The city and county planning boards will now hold hearings on the proposed zoning amendment and then send recommendations back to the city council. The council will then hold its own hearing on the amendment, before taking action on the proposal.

The resolution asserts that the rise of student housing and "group living" in the DeVeaux area is "inconsistent with the residential character of the neighborhood." It points to "quality of life issues" for neighborhood homeowners and what is described as "pressure on the city's residential home market" as "students are now occupying homes that would otherwise be available for rent or sale to families."

City officials have said they are working with Niagara University's administration to encourage targeted student housing development in the North End/Main Street corridor. At least one prominent Buffalo-based developer is in the early stages of planning to convert the former Jenss' department store building into student housing.

City lawyers say the Falls' current zoning code does not "adequately limit the types of housing and living arrangements that are compatible with the city's goals of preserving existing and/or promoting the creation of new single-family neighborhoods." They say stricter definitions of terms like family and group living will ease the conflicts that have erupted on a yearly basis between NU students and local residents.

The ordinance amendment would prohibit student housing in R1 and R2 zoned residential districts. Group homes, rectories and specially permitted bed and breakfast uses would still be allowed in R1 and R2 neighborhoods.