Debate arises over West Campus height restrictions

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Chemical engineer sophomore Taylor Jellison relaxes in the courtyard of her apartment complex, Piazza Navona, on 26th street Monday afternoon. The Central Austin Planning and Advisory Committee met to discuss efforts on how to make improvements to West Campus apartments.

Photo Credit: Victoria Montalvo | Daily Texan Staff

Students may butt heads with developers, realtors and owners of single family residences on height restrictions in West Campus following the meeting of a committee that aims to improve the area.

The Central Austin Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee is comprised of members of neighborhood associations in the West Campus and North Campus area, realtors and developers in that area, and two Student Government members, liberal arts representative John Lawler and SG city relations director Daniel Evans.

Currently, there is a 50-foot height restriction on buildings south of 24th Street and west of Leon Street in West Campus. Michael McHone, a realty developer in the West Campus area, proposed that the committee approve the submitting of an ordinance supported by local neighborhood associations which would allow builders to add an extra two floors and build to 75 feet.

Although the height increase is opposed by many single-family homeowners, it would benefit students — the primary population in the area, Lawler said.

Lawler and several members of the committee debated heavily during the meeting because while he believed the height discussion is relevant, Lawler said he felt that the discussion was causing the committee to place the issue of affordable housing on the back-burner.

“We’re allowing this height discussion to postpone the larger initiative, which is affordable housing in West Campus,” he said. “I think it would be a strong move by CANPAC to say let’s not look at this height restriction thing anymore, let’s focus on the issue of affordable housing.”

While there are roughly 400 student renters in the restricted area and only about two dozen single-family homeowners, the committee is almost completely made up of non-students, Lawler said. Although the 50-foot height restrictions benefit those single-family homeowners, allowing the height limits to be raised to 75-feet would allow multi-family complexes to accommodate more students, he said.

Student renters have distinctly different needs and concerns than single-family homeowners and are the majority of the population, he said.

“When a student moves into West Campus, they’re going to have certain expectations,” he said. “There’s going to be noise, there’s going to be problems with parking, that’s a given. Noise isn’t the primary concern, we should be looking at things aside from having a loud party.”

While single-family homeowners sympathize with student renters and support housing affordability in the North and West Campus areas, raising the height limitations in those areas would have no benefit for them and they wouldn’t support it, said Mary Ingle, a representative from the North University Neighborhood Association. Party decks on the tops of apartment complexes and students throwing things off of balconies on high rises are not something they are OK with dealing with, she said.

“We have to find balance,” she said. “As much as I would like to accommodate that very fragile balance I can’t accept that and I won’t go along with it. That’s not what our single family neighborhoods are.”

Some UT employees do live in the West Campus area and should be able to have the opportunity to live in single-family residences that are not next to large student populated apartment complexes, said John Foxworth, local photographer and former member of the committee.

“I used to work at UT for 17 years,” he said. “Can I not live in a house within walking distance? I have a right and other UT employees have a right to live near where they work in a house. It’s to protect the character of the neighborhood.”

The committee will meet again in one month to hold a vote on the issue of height restrictions in the back area of West Campus.

Printed on September 20, 2011 as: West Campus neighbors conflicted on height issue