WRC Zoning Issue Resolved
by Shahana Siddiqui

Safe Space, Resource Center: The WRC hosts a number of campus resources, including ExCos on women's issues. (photo by Lee Dolan)

On Wednesday, after discussion between the College, the city and students, a decision made by the college to close the Women’s Resource Center (WRC) because of city zoning violations was overturned.
Last weekend the College had informed students involved with the WRC that the 124 Woodland Street location would need to close immediately due to the city’s charge that the mixed institutional use of the WRC violated area residential zoning regulations. But as more questions were asked about the nature of the grievance letter that had been forwarded to the College by the city and the exact zoning regulation code that the letter discussed, the College established that the WRC is, in fact, in compliance with area zoning regulations. As of now, the WRC will remain at 124 Woodland.
The decision to close the WRC was made quickly, and many felt that from the get-go the problem required more careful attention. “I’d like to think that if the letter hadn’t gone out to students so prematurely, the College would have checked into [the zoning violations] and found it groundless,” Dean of Students Peter Goldsmith said. Acting Director and Advisor to the WRC Rachel Beverly was on a short vacation when the decision to close the center was announced.
About 10 days prior to the announcement that the WRC was violating zoning regulation a letter from the town had been forwarded to Dean of Students Peter Goldsmith, first suggesting that the use of the house as a College office was out of compliance with the residential zoning regulations of the City of Oberlin. Upon receiving the notice, the College began discussing short-term and long-term solutions to closing the 124 Woodland facilities. At that point, the exact code or clause that the center was violating remained unknown
The original grievance letter that had been forwarded to the Dean of Student was not shared with anyone and was labeled as confidential. According to City Manager Robert DiSpirito though, any letter sent from the city stands as public record. DiSpirito also confirmed that under Chapter 1337.02 “Permitted Uses” of the “R-2” Dwelling District, residential houses, like the 124 Woodland Street, are allowed to hold different businesses and thus by the description of the Women’s Resource Center, no regulations were violated.
“The letter came from the town to the town government calling the town’s attention to what the letter writer regarded as a possible violation of code on part of the College. It appears that this person was mistaken and the use of the building is appropriate,” Goldsmith said after speaking with DiSpirito and rescinding the decision to close the building.
The Service Building and the Finance Department of the College declined to comment on the matter.
Five years ago, students, working with the help of Associate Dean of Students William Stackman, had established The Women’s Resource Center. First situated in the Biggs wing of Stevenson, the center moved to the 124 Woodland house when the residents moved out. Since then the house has operated as a safe space for Oberlin women, a resource center, complete with books for loaning out, and functioned as a part of the administration office, mainly under the Office of the Dean of Students. The original proposal for the establishment of the WRC requested funds, staff position(s) and a permanent space. So far, some funds from the President’s office have been allocated; the 124 Woodland space was given, but no staff members to coordinate programming, activities and other official business and transactions have been offered. Instead, students work on a voluntary basis at the WRC, taking care of the facilities, holding office hours and planning activities throughout the year to educate the broader college community on gender and sexuality issues through speakers and ExCo classes. Rachel Beverly, Associate Dean of Students and the Director of the Multicultural Center was asked to handle WRC matters when she joined Oberlin’s staff last year.
Since Beverly’s addition the WRC has conferred with other administration offices on the possibility of renovating the house in order to utilize the space more fully and also to make the building handicap accessible. Students look to fix problems such as the building’s lack of fire escapes, which makes the second floor unusable.
Last year, while working towards this possible renovation, WRC members were made aware for the first time about the zoning conflicts surrounding the house. “Whether that was an issue the college intended to resolve or not, remained unclear to us all,” senior and long-standing member of the WRC board Ananda Timpane said. She also mentioned that while the WRC board members were aware of the zoning issue, nobody knew exactly why it was an issue. According to Timpane, when the question of the building’s formal zoning license rose, records were, for the most part, inaccessible.
However, minutes from meetings conducted by the College did give an impression that the space was committed to WRC on a permanent basis. Timpane expressed concerns on the need for a more structured approach to staff and student interactions regarding the WRC and the need for steady record keeping.
“I feel that the [administration] have chosen not to share any information on the mission statement or the continuing process of the WRC,” senior and the oldest WRC member Tiffany Foo said. In order for proper documentation to be kept, students and administration decided that a proper staff is needed for the WRC.

“This space is very valuable to me, it is an important space for everyone… I am paying here to be a student here, to use the resources here, to learn, it is not my job to ask the people whose salaries I am paying and will be paying in student loans for the rest of my life why they are not doing their job,” Timpane said.

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