After an Austin City Council vote late Thursday evening, buildings in inner West Campus will now be allowed to expand by 125 feet.
The council voted 7-2-1 in favor of amendments allowing height increases in residential buildings in inner West Campus, which covers most high-rise apartments between San Antonio and Pearl streets from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to 26th Street. Buildings in the outer West Campus and Guadalupe areas will be allowed to expand by 25 feet.
The Planning Commission previously approved amendments in August which would have expanded the boundaries of inner West Campus where height increases were the highest in the University Neighborhood Overlay, a four-section planning zone covering the entire West Campus neighborhood. However, the council adopted the staff recommendations, which did not include the expansion.
“I hear the interest in more student housing,” City Council member Ann Kitchen said on her support for the staff recommendation. “(The Planning Commission recommendation) doesn’t tell us we’re going to get anything particularly affordable. I’d rather deal with that issue as part of any additional zoning people may want to come back with.”
More than 20 West Campus community members spoke mainly in favor of the commission’s proposed expansion of the Inner West Campus area. University Democrats president Joe Cascino said he supported increased affordability in West Campus to accommodate more students with a desire to live in West Campus.
“The area suggested to be added is small, so it won’t significantly alter the character of West Campus,” government sophomore Cascino said. “It’s a natural expansion based on the physical shape and cultural character of the area.”
Mark Walters, a principal planner at the city of Austin, said repeated zoning discussions between neighborhood groups in the area nine months ago motivated the amendment process.
“Instead of doing one-off (amendments) all the time, they said, ‘Well, let’s look at this a little more comprehensively,’” Walters said. “We’ll come up with a set of amendments, so that we can address these things.”
Mike McHone, vice president of University Area Partners, said he is concerned about the expansion of the inner West Campus area, because it would create affordability issues for smaller housing cooperatives, or co-ops, against for-profit housing.
“What (the expanded area) was set up to be is a reserved area where the heights were not allowed to go very high so that co-ops could afford to buy land they did not own and build units that they could operate at a lower rate,” McHone said. “We’d also like to respect the historical buildings in that area and not surround them with big, tall buildings.”
While the Planning Commission’s recommendation did not pass, council member Paige Ellis said she commended students who came to speak their minds to the council.
“When we talked about Riverside, there were UT students who came to speak to us,” Ellis said. “That’s a value I want to champion. When young people come here and speak to City Council to say they’re not being brought in early enough in the process, that’s something we can learn from.”