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Neighborhoods north of UT want to keep out frats, sororities

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

Neighborhoods north of the University of Texas want to take special steps to stop the potential proliferation of fraternities and sororities in their neighborhoods.


Planner Robert Heil of the Planning and Development Review Department has proposed addressing the challenge through overlays, not unlike the overlay that created the high-density development in the University Neighborhood Overlay. Members of the Planning Commission’s Codes and Ordinances Subcommittee discussed it last week.


According to the ordinance amendment review sheet, the proposal would be to limit the use of “group residential” in the MF-4 zoning category. The amendment would create a zoning overlay district in which the group residential land use would be a conditional use in medium- to high-density multi-family residential.


“It’s a pretty broad tool for a pretty specific problem,” Heil said. “Usually, an overlay has a very specific use, such as a waterfront overlay.”


The conditional use overlay would be limited to the North University Overlay District, or, more specifically, three sub-districts: Hancock; Heritage Hills/Shoal Crest; and West University. At last week’s meeting, there was some grumbling over whether those names were specific enough to denote the correct areas.


According to the review sheet, group residential was actually prohibited on most MF-4 properties during the creation of the North University Combined Neighborhood Plan. “For those MF-4 zoned properties not addressed during the neighborhood planning process, this overlay would make the group residential use a conditional use, subject to the approval of a conditional use permit,” according to the paperwork provided to committee.


Neighborhood leaders in attendance included Mary Ingle and Design Commission Chair Bart Whatley, who lives in the Hancock neighborhood. Homeowner Betsy Greenberg told the subcommittee that the amendment was two years in the making, and it was time to “clean up the mistakes” that were made during the neighborhood plan process.


Local homeowners insisted they agreed with the idea of density in their neighborhoods. They wanted multi-family projects, even apartment complexes. They just weren’t inclined to support a rowdy fraternity or sorority house. No one, they agreed, wanted “that mentality” in their neighborhoods.


Commissioners, however, had heard some protests from co-ops, who still wanted the option to be in neighborhoods north of the university. Chair Dave Sullivan, a member of the subcommittee, suggested that staff should bring together stakeholders again for additional input on the issue.


“We have areas designated for higher density in the Hancock area,” Whatley told the commissioners. “We have areas where we would allow group residential without any kind of conditional use. In other areas, it’s going to be a behavior issue, a zoning issue, in our minds. It’s just vastly different. We need to have a discussion, where co-ops could fit into the neighborhood. We just need some way to sort through the conditional use issues.”


Some neighborhoods in the sub-districts are small, unable to handle significant development. One community member joked that the neighborhood would have no problem with a group residential use that served “elderly pregnant nuns.”


“We know what causes our problems in the neighborhood, and we know that it’s very hard to escape when there’s a problem in our neighborhood,” Ingle said.


Commissioners decided to move the group residential overlay proposal forward to the full commission, with minor adjustments.

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