Austin City Council proposes increases to building heights in West Campus

Sara Johnson

Austin City Council recently advanced a series of amendments which would allow for increased building height limits in West Campus if passed.

Mark Walters, principal planner at the City of Austin, presented the amendments to the city council planning committee Aug. 27. The amendments were proposed to the University Neighborhood Overlay plan, which was created in 2004 to promote high-density living in West Campus.

The amendments include a series of changes to the established regulations on building heights in three of the four districts dedicated to residential construction.

"One of the big (changes) here would be revising building heights as they relate to affordability," Walters said during the meeting. "(The changes) would allow for an additional 125 feet of building height in the Inner West Campus subdistrict and an additional 25 feet in the Outer West Campus and Guadalupe subdistricts."

Walters said the height increases would apply to buildings with 10% of units set aside for individuals earning up to 50% of the median family income, which is defined by the Austin Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Office as "very low-income." 

"(The previous ordinance) would not allow those taller buildings to be built," Walters said. "You couldn't take advantage of the affordability because you don't build buildings like this. You'd end up with a funny-looking, wedge-shaped building."

Allie Runas, the chair of the West Campus Neighborhood Association, said the association supported the proposed changes for the neighborhood.

"We support the proposed changes in order to promote a more walkable, diverse and rich experience for the residents of West Campus," Runas said. "Our neighbors also voted to promote our vision by calling for reduced parking minimums, wider sidewalks on Inner West Campus and expanding the Inner West Campus area."

Rylan Maksoud, the Student Government Housing Policy Director and a Texas Student Media Board member, said while he supports the amendments proposed, there is still room for improvement. He said he recommends expanding the boundaries of the Inner West Campus subdistrict, where Walters said most student apartments are located.

"Increased density and increased supply of apartments would bring down the rent for all students," said Maksoud, a Plan II and government junior. "The only distinctionsjjjstudents make in the different areas of West Campus are which (apartments) are more expensive and which are not."

Maksoud said the less expensive areas of West Campus are more likely to be farther away from campus, leading to longer walking times for students to and from campus. Runas said there is a link between student performance and distance from campus.

"The closer a student can live to campus, the better their academic performance and college experience," Runas said. "UNO 2.0, as we've been calling it, has the opportunity to renew our investment in affordability."

The amendments to the University Neighborhood Overlay plan will be presented during the Sept. 19 Austin City Council meeting, where the council will vote whether to approve or reject the amendments. 

"It's our hope that we can work together to achieve these goals for West Campus," Runas said. "If not now, then in the future. We just can't miss the opportunity to get started as soon as possible."