Lourdes University is a key contributor to the educational and economic vitality of northwest Ohio, and a solid citizen of its home community of Sylvania. The private university seeks to expand its 89-acre campus by roughly 13 percent, adding an academic center, a sports and recreation facility, a ministry building, and two parking lots.
Certainly Lourdes should not be permitted to ignore the concerns of neighbors in the residential area who would be affected by the expansion, even if it were uncharacteristically inclined to do so. But neither should Sylvania City Council, as it considers the university's plan, allow not-in-my-backyard sentiments to exercise an effective veto.
Lourdes officials say the expansion would enable the university to build enrollment, broaden student programs and services, and promote economic development near the campus. In recent years, Lourdes has worked hard and well to diversify its student body, to encourage graduates to stay in the Toledo area, and to open its facilities to the community.
Some neighbors cite fears of depressed home values and increased noise, crime, and traffic congestion they say the athletic building would bring. Several expressed annoyance at the indignity of having to watch students park their cars and walk to class in the morning.
Yet the proposed athletic facility is deep within the expansion area. And the venerable Franciscan institution is no one's idea of a party school; it's hard to imagine rowdy tailgating outside the building before basketball games.
The Sylvania Planning Commission endorsed the expansion plan last week after it called for changes. The athletic and academic buildings would exchange sites. A walking and bicycle trail would be moved. The modifications are not binding on the city council.
A lawyer for a nearby resident asked the planning commission whether it would approve the athletic facility if it were proposed by "Gold's Gym instead of Lourdes." That comparison is specious.
Lourdes University is not a big-box store run by an out-of-town chain. It is owed respect for its sensitivity to environmental stewardship and land-use issues, inside and outside its classrooms.
Lourdes' outgoing president, Robert Helmer, says the university will consider the modifications proposed by the planning commission, even though it is under no obligation to do so.
As Sylvania City Council plans to consider the proposal tonight, the expansion plan's detractors should be willing to display similar flexibility, and to bring something more to the community debate than negativism.
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