Students walk past the Carl Hansen Student Center at Quinnipiac University in Hamden on March 28, 2019.

Students walk past the Carl Hansen Student Center at Quinnipiac University in Hamden on March 28, 2019.

Students walk past the Carl Hansen Student Center at Quinnipiac University in Hamden on March 28, 2019.

Students walk past the Carl Hansen Student Center at Quinnipiac University in Hamden on March 28, 2019.

As Quinnipiac University has grown in reputation, student enrollment and program offerings, so has its geographic footprint in the towns in which it resides: Hamden and North Haven

Between both towns, the university owns 136 properties across 700 acres. Of those, 34 are tax-exempt, keeping millions off the tax rolls of the two towns combined.

Most of the university’s acquisitions have been in Hamden, where the school founded its main campus, Mount Carmel. There, Quinnipiac owns 117 properties and 33 are tax-exempt.

“Quinnipiac University is a great asset to the town of Hamden,” Hamden Mayor Curt B. Leng said. “They bring value as an economic driver and one of our largest employers and as an educational institution, which is a good stakeholder to have in a community. It also brings with it some financial challenges, because there’s a lot of property that is usually taxable that would go toward our grand list that is no longer on the grand list. As a result, other property owners are paying a higher mill rate.”

The university last year purchased two properties worth almost $5 million in assessed value that immediately came off the tax rolls — 3071 Whitney Ave. and the Quinnipiac president’s home at 305 Spruce Bank Road.

Acting Chief Assessor John Gelati calculated that if the money Quinnipiac has been exempt from paying in Hamden, going back to 1960, had been invested at a moderate interest rate of 2.5 percent, it would have been worth more than $2 billion in 2017.

He speculated that either the university could have invested it over the years, or if the town had been collecting tax on the properties, Hamden could have invested the revenue.

Quinnipiac paid $632,107 in taxes based on the current fiscal year’s tax rate. If the university paid property taxes on all its parcels in Hamden, the town could gain approximately $10.5 million more in tax revenue.

“Universities should not be fully taxed,” Leng said. “There’s a reason there’s an exemption. It’s to allow them to be these economic drivers and to be able to put money and resources into the education process and allow them to do what some businesses can’t, but it seems to have gotten to a point where the there has to be more balance of assisting in covering very real expenses that host communities incur.”

As he retired last year, former university President John Lahey presented $1.5 million to Hamden, about half of which paid taxes on university-owned non-educational properties and for public safety service, and the other half as a voluntary contribution. The university also presented $700,000 to North Haven last year to support the building of two elementary school playgrounds and match the payment in lieu of taxes.

The university is formulating a strategic plan and a facilities master plan to take stock of all the properties it owns and assess how to best use them.

About this process, Lynn Bushnell, vice president for public affairs, said, “With the university starting a master planning process this year, it’s premature to comment on any plans for university-owned property at this time.”

The university has grown its footprint more than five-fold since it moved to Hamden. In the last 50 years, Quinnipiac expanded from one campus with 120 acres to three campuses — Mount Carmel, York Hill and the graduate schools in North Haven — totaling 700 acres, according to the university website.

The school was founded in 1929 and in the early years, the main building sat at 1450 Whitney Ave. in New Haven. In 1966, then-Quinnipiac College broke ground on the Mount Carmel campus, which originally consisted of Tator Hall, the student union, the library and two dormitories.

In 2000, it became Quinnipiac University, having built a law school and business school on the main campus.

In 2007, Quinnipiac acquired the 100-acre campus in North Haven from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, where the university opened the Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine and the Center for Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, which opened in 2013. The law school also moved to the North Haven campus and the building that had housed it was transformed into the Center for Communications and Engineering.

In that time, Quinnipiac also built its York Hill campus with dorms for upperclassmen and the People’s United Center, formerly TD Bank Sports Center, for its basketball and hockey teams.

Today, 10,290 students are enrolled in the university’s College of Arts and Sciences and eight professional schools. Enrollment has grown from 2,200 students in 1987 to 10,226 in 2017, a 365 percent increase in student population, according to the university website.

To date, the economic impact of the university is estimated at $3.12 billion according to a report prepared by the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges.

- Direct spending by Quinnipiac University, its students, employees and visitors totals $1.9 billion , the report said.

- Direct spending by students is just under $1 million and spending by employees totals nearly $179 million.

- The university also has created 24,978 jobs for the region and more than 22,000 almuni live in Connecticut.

Under Hamden’s current tax rate, if Quinnipiac paid taxes on its five most valuable exempt properties, the town would collect almost $10.2 million in tax revenue.

- The York Hill campus at 305 Sherman Ave., the untaxed amount being $92,378,860, while $1,021,720 of the property is taxable.

- The property on which the president’s house sits at 305 Spruce Bank Road, assessed at $1,490,580.

In 2007 the university began constructing its York Hill campus to address the growing student population, but Quinnipiac has struggled with providing student housing for some years, with students living in overcrowded dorms or seniors not having guaranteed housing.

Now, more students than ever are living off campus. According to a memorandum sent to the Hamden Planning and Zoning Department, one-third of its 7,051 undergraduate students are living off campus and the university estimates its total student enrollment among undergraduates and graduates to increase by roughly 400 students over the next five years.

Meanwhile, 61 student housing permit applications were submitted in the past year in Hamden, the largest number recorded, the memorandum said.

There are 430 total permits issued or pending, roughly 40 of which are for university-owned houses, while the rest of the homes rented to students are privately owned.

Hamden Councilwoman Jody Clouse, D-1, whose district includes the Mount Carmel Campus, said she’s been seeing “for rent” signs marketing to Quinnipiac students going up all over the area.

Issues arise when houses rented to students are blighted or overoccupied, Clouse said. She met with residents in her district who were concerned about red Solo cups sitting on the lawns for weeks and other blight that brings down property values.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” Leng said. “Their acquisitions and the university’s growth has been a positive when you talk about it being an economic driver. They do things in the community that should be recognized. But when you buy your home and invest in your home, you’re expecting it to be surrounded by residential neighbors, but when a couple (of) homes on that street where you’ve put your life’s investment in are the equivalent of small dormitories, it’s not the living environment you expected when you bought your house. There’s no clear solution under law but it’s a very real issue, especially to those people that are experiencing it.”

Leng said dealing with housing violations can be complicated because the town can’t undo student housing once it’s been permitted.

“Once a person has a permit to have a student housing location, you can’t take that away even for bad behavior,” Leng said. “If you rent to students and have blight issues and repeated violations, the town can’t take the permit away for abuse.”

The only way a town can get rid of a permit is when the property is under a blight citation and the property has to have its permit renewed, which is a very limited window of opportunity, he said.

“People think if there’s bad behavior, even criminal, the town can take away the permit, but unfortunately we don’t have the legal right to do that,” Leng said.

Leng said Quinnipiac officials have gone on ride-alongs with Hamden police to look at housing issues.

“We found that the students were far more in fear of resident life than the police because they didn’t want to get kicked out of school,” Leng said.

“The homes that Quinnipiac owns in neighborhoods are kept meticulously and there are few instances of inappropriate behavior in Quinnipiac-owned houses compared to privately owned individuals,” Leng said. “It shows they can certainly be a good force in neighborhoods when they engage.”

Clouse said she wishes there were more collaboration between the university and local police so the two entities would be able to work together on housing issues.

Clouse said students can be good neighbors, but it takes education. Once, when her student neighbors were having a graduation party, they passed out fliers with their phone number in case other residents wanted to talk to them about it, and the music was turned off by 11 p.m. as promised.

North Haven has been affected differently while having the university as a neighbor. The town has 19 properties that are university-owned and only one — the 100-acre campus of the medical and law schools at 370 Bassett Road — is tax exempt.

First Selectman Michael J. Freda said North Haven has enjoyed a good relationship with the university in its backyard.

“We’ve worked very closely with them,” he said. “There’s great communication back and forth. Any time there’s a problem in the neighborhoods they work well with us.”

Lahey, who headed the university during most of its growth, said at the time the school expanded to North Haven it did so because some Hamden officials at the time were anti-Quinnipiac.

The university has bought some houses in North Haven, but other than the campuses, there hasn’t been much development, Freda said. The most recent acquisition in North Haven was in July 2017 at 301 Kings Highway and Freda said the university hasn’t indicated it will develop the 100-plus acres it purchased on the west side of town.

Freda said having Quinnipiac nestled in town has been a benefit that North Haven is taking advantage of by developing an apartment complex on Washington Avenue across from the graduate schools, and a vacant building on the west side of camus recently was purchased for a mixed-use apartment complex.

“These are a representation of where students could go and I believe that’s turned out as a good option for Quinnipiac to consider for their post-graduate students,” he said.

And regarding the campus itself, he said the town never would have gotten another insurance company at the Anthem building and the university restored it.

“From a revenue standpoint, the university has been generous in giving us a voluntary payment,” Freda said. “It’s been a fine relationship between town and university.”

While Hamden has struggled to strike a balance between reaping the benefits of having Quinnipiac in town and keeping tax rates down, Leng said the town still is better off with the university.

“It’s a touch circle to figure out,” he said. “But we think there’s a balance to be had.”

Hamden representatives have put forth a bill that would allow the town to apply a per-student fee on the university for fire and police services.

If proposed bill No. 589 passes at the legislature, Leng said it would mean $350 million for Hamden. He said the bill was approved out of committee so that debate will continue.

“I feel like having a nationally known collegiate institute in town is fantastic,” she said. “We need to embrace that. It brings in a lot of good talent when (students) graduate but there is a financial concern and if we find a way to even that out we’d be more successful.”

Clouse said she’d like to see more students staying in town as working professionals after they graduate and Hamden should be benefiting in that way.

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“Hamden does want to be a good neighbor to Quinnipiac University,” Gelati said. “But with the current fiscal situation of the town, the colleges, hospitals and nonprofits should be contributing more.”

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