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September 04, 2004

How to Prevent Sprawl

By Byron LaMasters

Speaking of sprawl, the Austin city council enacted some good public policy this past week regarding west campus housing. The Daily Texan reports:

The Austin City Council voted unanimously Thursday night to approve a plan that would allow the construction of high-rise student housing in West Campus. The council postponed voting on the plan, called the University Neighborhood Overlay District, at last week's City Council meeting.

Debated since the summer of 2002 and postponed until today, the Overlay plan finally passed with amendments concerning affordable housing, streetscape specifications and parking requirements. The amendments met very little resistance.


The new district is bordered by Guadalupe Street on the east, Lamar Street on the west, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on the south and 29th Street on the north. It allows developers to build as high as 175 feet, but only in the blocks west of Guadalupe.

To build that high, developers must agree to improve sidewalks and lighting and plant trees.

The council declined to include an amendment supported by the Student Government to increase the plan's minimum off-street parking requirement to 80 percent of the residential population, leaving it at 60 percent.

Jerry Harris, a lawyer representing a West Campus property owner, said the city wants to encourage pedestrian usage and reduce cars in the area.

"The cost for parking spaces is very expensive, and rent for a student would have been negatively affected," Harris said.

Having more parking would be nice, but overall, allowing high-rise housing in west campus would most likely serve to lower the cost of living, and increase the amount of housing space for most students. By increasing the supply of west campus housing, either the price of housing will go down, or the quality of housing will go up in order to attract more students to live in the area. Personally, I'm glad that the amount of parking wasn't increased, because that would only serve to increase traffic, when you really don't need a car to get around if you live in west campus - I got around just fine with my bike most of my freshman year (although having a car makes getting downtown, and going out on the weekends easier).

I think that the spirit of the proposal is what makes it very good policy. No one says that you can't have a car in west campus, it's simply not encouraged. If you need a car, and you can't afford to park a car in west campus, then live on Riverside or Far West. Requiring builders to increase the amount of parking in west campus from 60% of the residential population to 80% would drastically increase the construction costs of new units, and thus increase the rent. That's unfair to the people living in west campus that don't have cars. By keeping the parking at 60% of residency, it encourages lower rent, public transportation, walking and cycling - and from personal experience, I'll argue with anyone that cycling is the most effective way of getting around central Austin.

Finally, this proposal encourages students to live close to the university and participate more in university sporting events, activities, student organizations and other parts of college life. Without encouraging high-rise units close to campus, more students will move to areas further away with lower rent. Common sense tells us that students commuting to campus are less likely to come back for events outside their classes - thus making the university a commuter school, which for a large university like the University of Texas, would take much away from the community and culture of the institution. And having a vibrant and active central city is good policy for anywhere, especially a college town like Austin.

Posted by Byron LaMasters at September 4, 2004 06:08 PM | TrackBack


On a similar note, Dobbs's column is going to get some responses come Tuesday.

Posted by: chrisken at September 5, 2004 05:35 PM
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