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Planning Commission studies ‘group residential’ overlay near UT

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

The Planning Commission agreed last week, with some trepidation, to initiate a zoning amendment that would designate “group residential” as a conditional overlay for many neighborhoods surrounding the University of Texas.

 

When it comes to group residential, don’t think “treatment center” or “sober living.” Instead, the targeted definition is aimed at a portion of city code that describes allowable uses under the zoning category of MF-4. Instead, think of group residential as group housing that includes fraternities and sororities, dorms and co-ops, which are concentrated around UT.

 

In this potential rewrite of code, group residential is considered an overlay in a number of neighborhoods surrounding the university, minus the areas within the University Neighborhood Overlay and the North University Neighborhood, where the highest concentration of group housing occurs.

 

Alan Robinson of College Houses, which provides housing for 530 students near the UT campus, noted that MF-4 was a logical place to consider group housing, if only because most of the area’s group housing occurred there.

 

“You limit this to the area around the university, but this is the area that is most affected,” Robinson said, adding MF-4 was the logical zoning category to put co-ops and dorms, with or without an overlay.

 

And, of course, if all such uses required Council approval, then why have the  zoning category at all? Robinson asked. During discussion, Chair Dave Sullivan noted how rare it was to find such specific sub-category definitions for a particular neighborhood.

 

The commission had no problem initiating the ordinance proposal, which would have to come back to the Planning Commission, and Council, before approval, Sullivan noted before the unanimous vote on the code initiation.

 

Mary Ingle of the Central Austin Neighborhoods Planning Advisory Committee called it a compromise, essentially clean-up language on the neighborhood’s approved 2004 plan. Seven neighborhoods, plus the University Area Partners, had agreed to the language, Ingle said.

 

The reasoning was to take a small sliver of code, applied to a particular area around UT, in order to provide more control over group residential construction. Commissioner Saundra Kirk said she expected a discussion of plan amendment versus overlay when the code amendment returned to the commission.

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