City Considers Tighter Rules on Student Houses
By Carlos Morales
A proposal to more tightly regulate housing developments in six Central Austin neighborhoods around the UT campus is working its way to the City Council. It could change the future of group living spaces.
The amendment would affect MF-4 zoning areas, the ones where you find cooperatives, group homes, and fraternity and sorority houses. The amendment would make MF-4 a conditional-use category; that means that future residential group developments would need to be approved by the City Council.
“As we look at the debate, I think that one underlying assumption is that there are residents of the neighborhood and that there are students — as if they were two groups,” said Alan Robinson, general administrator of College Houses, a student-run cooperative with several houses near the UT campus. “In fact, students, they’re living in the neighborhood just like non-students. We should consider it one neighborhood, and students shouldn’t have their voice unheard just because they’re students. They have rights just like anyone else.”
The Central Austin Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee is pushing the amendment. They say it won’t doesn’t affect any existing group residences. And while it would make six UT neighborhoods conditional-use, it wouldn’t affect West Campus.
Brian Donovan of ICC Austin, a nonprofit that runs several co-op houses near the UT campus, says what’s at issue are multifamily-zoned properties, which were addressed in the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood plan of 2004.
“It was agreed that in the university neighborhood overlay area, which is in West Campus, that there should be room made for more students, allowing for the up-zoning,” Donovan said. “And the single-family neighborhoods north and west of the university wanted to protect their single-family character.”
The problem is that as UT continues to grow, more student housing will be needed. And those opposed to the amendment worry that keeping that development restricted to West Campus will make it harder to meet demand.
The City Council is scheduled to vote on the new regulation September 27.