Town vs. gown: Sometimes it’s a coin toss

Published 7:47 pm Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Every coin has two sides to it, but when it comes to a coin toss, someone’s got to call it.

And it seems there’s been one coin flipping through the air for quite some time — heads, Troy University and tails, every one else.

Sure there are many Troy University supporters throughout the community, but there are perhaps just as many who would probably prefer to ignore that university presence.

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I have been part of the university community, and I have been part of the rest of the city.

As a Troy University student I’ll admit it’s easy to become absorbed in the university way of living with little reason other than Wal-Mart and an occasional meal to step beyond campus borders.

But now I’ve staked my claim as a resident of the city of Troy, and what I’ve found on the other side is more than I would have imagined in my four years of college.

I often wonder why it took graduating to learn about all that Pike County has to offer — why didn’t I know there was such a huge emphasis on arts in the community? Why didn’t I know that Pike County had a fair? Or that Brundidge had a Peanut Butter Festival and an Independence Day parade?

Why didn’t I know who the county’s biggest employers were and who represented me in the local government?

It could have been that I just didn’t take the time to learn, but perhaps, it’s partly because there is a great divide.

I have seen this divide that’s often unspoken become quite vocal at times in the community.

Sometimes it’s business owners frustrated with communication barriers that often come with the university’s international student population. Others have complaints of too many buildings named after the university chancellor. And lately, there’s been talk of Troy University just getting too big for its borders.

Take the recent rezoning of Highland Avenue, an issue that has been debated for at least the last three years.

Many of those who own property near the first block of Highland Avenue understandably don’t want students living in apartments near their homes. These people made their side of the story heard at countless city planning meetings and again last week when the Planning Commission ultimately approved the zoning change from R-1 single family living to an R-3 high density area.

I commend those who felt strongly enough to stand up so boldly each and every time.

That being said though, it is inevitable Troy University will have to grow, and perhaps this transition is the best option.

It is a choice that will put more housing near the university campus, and at the same time will keep single family living in the bulk of the neighborhood, and it’s a choice that was not made in haste.

Residents may not want college students living near their homes. I used to be one, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be my neighbor either.

But I challenge residents to look at the big picture of just how important Troy University is to the local community.

Troy University is hands down the largest employer in Pike County, and in the last year, it is the only employer to have seen significant growth in its workforce.

According to the Pike County Economic Development Industrial Guide, Troy added 246 employees in the last year. All other major industries either maintained employment, added only a few or decreased its employees in tough economic times.

Troy University is the backbone to many local businesses, bringing not just students who spend money but parents, sports fans and visitors from around the globe.

I sympathize with those who don’t want their property values decreased. I sympathize with those who don’t want noisy neighbors.

But in this coin toss, at least this time, I’m calling heads.

Holli Keaton is news editor of The Messenger. She can be reached at