Brian Donovan

Thomas King, manager and barista at Caffé Medici, expresses his frustration with the unavailability of free parking spots for employees near the coffee shop.
Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

Thomas King searches West Campus for parking before every shift at Caffé Medici on Guadalupe Street, where he is a manager and barista.

Like several businesses on the Drag, Caffé Medici does not have employee parking spots, and King said employees have to find parking in West Campus if they commute and don’t want to pay for a spot.

However, come December, new parking meters will eliminate many of the spots that service industry laborers use in the neighborhood.

Austin City Council approved new parking meters in West Campus in September, hoping to clear West Campus’ congested streets by producing higher turnover of parking spots. The city will begin installing the 385 new parking meters along streets including San Antonio, Nueces and Rio Grande streets in December.

“I think it’s an inappropriate and wrong way to make money,” King, who commutes from another neighborhood, said. “In some ways I feel like it’s a tax for anyone who works a service industry job. Students can buy parking spots, but not us.”

Patrick Dougan, assistant store manager at apparel store Tyler’s, said the new meters could make parking more difficult for him and his co-workers. On any given weekday at Tyler’s, there are 12 employees with cars at work but only six employee parking spots, Dougan said.

“There’s not enough parking to go around, and that’s the issue they are trying to alleviate. But it might inhibit a lot of people from being able to work,” Dougan said. “We’ve got to set an alarm and make a quick run on our breaks to pay for the meter if we don’t want to get a ticket.”

The new parking meters will have a five-hour time limit and operate Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The initial meter fees will pay back the city bonds used to install the meters. Eventually 15 to 18 percent of the funds will go to improve walkways and lighting in West Campus, Brian Donovan, chair of West Campus’ neighborhood association’s parking committee, said. The rest will pay for the costs of credit card transactions, administrative expenses and other city duties.

The city and University Area Partners, the neighborhood association for West Campus, issued the plan for the new meters over the summer. The planning process began in 2009 with two meetings by Central Austin stakeholders interested in laying out a new parking plan for the neighborhood.

Donovan said the new meters will free up spaces for commuters in West Campus by requiring them to move their cars, but he added that the meters are not a long-term solution to the neighborhood’s parking problem.

“This little thing happening in West Campus is not going to be fixing very much,” Donovan said. “It’s going to help with turnover, which should presumably help businesses along the Drag. But it doesn’t help people who work there, and it doesn’t help people who live here.”

Donovan, who also serves as general administrator of the Inter-Cooperative Council, a West Campus cooperative organization, said the new meters will remove some free parking spaces that West Campus cooperatives use.

Residents at buildings that were built in or before 1959 can apply for parking permits that exempt them from paying for street parking. Before 1959, the city did not require builders to have parking available at West Campus complexes, so the city may issue exemptions to some of these residents.

The city will determine the number of parking permits issued at these residences in an assessment of need based on the ability of each building to provide parking spaces.

For now the new city ordinance states these permits will last for a year and cost $20, although that may change in the future.

Donovan said he would like to see the city implement improved rapid metro bus systems and take a study of parking around the University in order to provide alternative options for transportation that do not impede workers in West Campus.

“I think we have insufficient transportation choices now,” Donovan said. “The most effective way for workers [to get to work] now would be carpooling, but that’s still not a pretty picture. We need an assessment, and we need to look at this thing comprehensively.”

Printed on October 26, 2012 as: Added meters may hurt workers, residents

A total of 622 new beds will be available to students in West Campus for the fall 2013 semester, according to an official from the University’s realty group.

The site, located where the 120-year-old Wooldridge Hall stood until this summer, will contain a high-rise apartment complex built by Education Realty Trust Inc., said Amy Wanamaker, director of campus real estate. While the University will continue to own the land, the building will be handled by the realtors, and the University will make only a small profit, she said.

“It’s kind of a low-risk, low-profit endeavor for us,” she said. “We’ll always own the land and the better news is that we’re not putting our own funds into the development. There will probably be a modest return, but it’s a low-risk one, which is really important to us.”

The group plans for the UT International Office, formerly in Wooldridge Hall, to relocate to the first floor of the complex, which is required by the University Neighborhood Overlay to be reserved for office or retail space, Wanamaker said.

The unit will be 16 stories tall, providing studio, one-, two-, three- and four-bed units, and will contain a structured parking garage and a swimming pool, said Gene del Monte, director of construction and development for Education Realty Trust, Inc. The project will have 613 beds for undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty, he said.
Construction on the project is scheduled to begin this month, and the complex should open in August of 2013, del Monte said. Although pricing will not be determined until later in the building process, it will be based off of pricing in other comparable apartment complexes in West Campus, he said.

“Pricing will be competitive,” he said. “We’re not going to overprice the complex while other new buildings are going up as well.”
The project is one among several new complexes being built or already built in West Campus that are particularly tall, including 21 Rio and The Castilian, del Monte said.

The University will lease the land out to the realty group and building the facility will likely be costly, said Brian Donovan, a member of the Central Austin Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee. An August discussion regarding affordability in the West Campus area among groups such as CANPAC resulted in a compromise with city commission members. If the compromise is approved by City Council, new complexes will have to contribute more to the affordability funds and provide more beds at lower rates than before.

The University is exempt from city zoning restrictions and could choose to ignore affordability requirements if officials wanted to, but Donovan said he believes they will choose to follow the requirements. Providing affordable housing through the realty group is actually better in terms of affordability than it would be if the University had chosen to build the complex independently, Donovan said.

“I believe that they’re going to comply with the University Neighborhood Overlay’s requirements,” he said. “I feel good about the fact that they’re going to follow the requirements like other developments in West Campus instead of taking advantage of the option to ignore them.”

On Wednesday, Student Government hosted a town hall meeting to discuss proposed parking meters in West Campus. The proposal was first put forth last March by University Area Partners (UAP), an organization of local businesses, housing developments, churches and other interested groups that claim to represent the interests of West Campus.

Under the proposal, up to 400 currently free parking spaces throughout West Campus would be eliminated, either replaced by metered parking or restricted to the few residents who would be eligible for parking permits.

UAP claims the meters are necessary to make improvements to West Campus’ infrastructure. “It’s really about taxing the people that commute in to pay for pedestrian and bike improvement,” UAP member Brian Donovan told The Daily Texan last week.

But the reality is that West Campus residents use the majority of those spots — not commuters. The round-the-clock demand for resident street parking in West Campus means that commuters don’t stand a chance at snagging a valuable parking space. Drive through West Campus at night — when all of the hypothetical commuters should be gone — and try to find a parking spot. You won’t.

UAP claims to represent the interests of West Campus, yet the vast majority of the neighborhood’s residents are unaware of its very existence. That’s because UAP represents the interests of the businesses of West Campus, not the residents.

To really understand the issue behind the proposed parking meters, one needs to only look at which parties will most benefit.

In 2004, UAP helped pass the University Neighborhood Overlay (UNO), which changed zoning codes in West Campus and allowed for the influx of high-rise apartment complexes such as The Block, Quarters and Jefferson West. During the last four years, 20 new high-occupancy complexes have been built, most funded by out-of-state real estate companies such as CWS, the holding company that owns The Block’s seven complexes.

UNO also had provisions to ensure that parking leases were not included in housing contracts, meaning students were not required to rent a parking space along with their room. The result is that the vast majority of parking garages in West Campus are not near capacity. Those empty parking spaces typically lease for anywhere from $75 to $100 a month.

Simply put, when students park their cars on the street for free, the apartment complexes lose money.

However, those empty garages are not the only commercial interests at play. Several complexes were zoned for first-floor commercial use, which is why there are so many restaurants and convenience stores at the bottom of these complexes However, many of those businesses have found West Campus to be a less fertile business ground than originally imagined. Business owners have complained that a lack of available parking is responsible for the lack of profits.

So, the proposed parking meters are better for everyone — if by everyone we mean both the apartment complexes and their commercial leases.

UAP should stop passing itself off as a neighborhood advocacy group and fess up to what it really is: a lobbying organization for the apartment complexes and area businesses.

In its defense, UAP does have one Student Government-appointed student representative. Yet a single representative, no matter how passionate, is insufficient to justify UAP’s claim to represent West Campus.

So Donovan is right, in one sense: the proposed parking meters are a tax — a tax on student apathy. The Student Government town hall meeting was attended by a paltry number of students, the vast majority of whom were SG members.

Those students who are working to reshape UAP to better serve the student body cannot do so alone. The student residents of West Campus, not just SG reps, must either make their feelings known or accept the consequences of their silence.

There are plenty of infrastructure improvements that need to be made in West Campus, especially on streets that have been torn apart by construction crews. But students shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of those costs, especially when so many others continue to enjoy the profits.