Zoning proposal would cap college students living in duplexes at 3

SIGNS SUCH AS the one pictured, reading "Save Neighborhoods. Enforce Zoning Laws," started appearing in June on the East Side of Providence, where neighbors are concerned too many college students are occupying duplexes in the area. / PBN PHOTO/MARY MACDONALD

PROVIDENCE – A proposed zoning amendment would restrict the number of college students who could share a two-family house, or duplex, in the R-1 single-family residential districts of the city. The new rule, if approved, would cap the number of students at three.

The ordinance, introduced by councilman Sam Zurier, specifies that in the R-1A and R-1 districts, any unit in a two-family structure could not be occupied by more than three college students unless the dwelling unit is owner-occupied.

The impetus is a large two-family on Keene Street in College Hill that has been leased to 13 college students, Zurier said recently. Previously, the two-family house was occupied by a single family. It has a small in-law apartment on the third floor but is classified as a two-family. Several residents approached him, Zurier said, asking about what can be done.

Another house on the same block has been sold to the same investor, Zurier noted.

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“So, their concern is it’s going to affect their quality of life, if they end up with 26 college students in two of these things,” he said.

The neighborhood is an R-1 zone, dominated by single-family houses. When the Keene Street property changed hands last summer, it sold for $765,000, well above the previous assessment of $528,900, according to the property records.

In neighborhoods near the universities, including Elmhurst and the East Side, “You have a collection of large houses,” Zurier said. “The economics are such that it’s much more profitable to rent them out to students than it would be to sell them to families.”

His proposal received a public hearing in late June but has not been scheduled for action.

An online petition started by neighbors has begun. And on the East Side, small blue signs started appearing last month, stating “Save Neighborhoods: Enforce Zoning Laws.”

The signs are a reference to the existing zoning rule, which prohibits more than three students from sharing any house, in any residential district. It hasn’t been enforced because the city’s legal advisers have said it will face a challenge, Zurier said.

Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at macdonald@pbn.com.