University Area Partners

Civil engineering sophomore Lean Bennett walks through West Campus. The city is implementing improved lighting throughout West Campus as part of a parking benefit program between the city and the University Area Partners, a West Campus neighborhood association.
Photo Credit: Chris Foxx | Daily Texan Staff

City officials are planning to add lighting, trees and wider sidewalks to West Campus as part of a parking benefit program between the city and University Area Partners, a West Campus neighborhood association. 

The project, which began in 2012, first replaced free two-hour parking spots with metered parking spots. The profit from the parking meters goes toward initiatives intended to benefit the neighborhood, according to Steve Grassfield, the city’s parking enterprise manager.

“The revenue from the parking meters — minus the city costs, which are the costs of the pay stations, enforcement, paper, back office support … and then whatever is left — over 51 percent of that money goes to the neighborhood,” Grassfield said. 

Since the start of the project, the city has already spent approximately $250,000 on improving sidewalks in West Campus, according to Grassfield. The initiative also includes benches for the sidewalks, as well as more lighting.

Grassfield said after the city widened sidewalks along Rio Grande and 23rd streets, pedestrian traffic tripled in the area.

Cathy Norman, president of University Area Partners, said the project began as a way to handle increased pedestrian traffic and regulate parking. 

“When we had two-hour parking, or no regulation on the parking, people would park there for an entire semester,” Norman said. “The car would never move. But now with paid parking it really does turn over, and people think about if they want to pay to have a car.”

Linguistics junior Sandra Reyes said she wishes there was more free parking, but she supports the project and thinks West Campus sidewalks need more maintenance.

“[The sidewalks] aren’t even, so some spots flood when it rains, and it makes it hard to walk through,” Reyes said. “We have too many people in the area for how big the sidewalks are.”

Grassfield said other cities, such as Houston, have implemented similar parking benefits in neighborhoods after hearing about the project in West Campus. 

“Typically what you see in paid parking, [money] goes in and nothing really goes back to the community and this does, which is something we like because there’s only so much city money, and this goes right back into neighborhood where the revenue was produced,” Grassfield said.

Each project takes several years to finish, but sidewalk expansion also occurs with private development in the area, including the construction of new residential complexes. Norman said private development helps the project continue because it offers more opportunities for funding. 

Norman said the project mainly focuses on streets that run east to west. The city will begin making improvements to 21st, 22nd and 25th streets next.

“It’s important to fix that up, so it can bear the traffic and is comfortable and safe,” Norman said.

The first student housing project to be built on University-owned land but developed and maintained by an outside company opened Tuesday.

2400 Nueces is a $63.9 million complex standing 16-stories tall. It is located two blocks from campus and has 304 apartments with 622 bedrooms, with rates ranging from $796 per person for a four-bedroom apartment to $1358 for a single-bedroom apartment. Josh Wilson, vice president of development on 2400 Nueces, said the building is already at 99 percent capacity.

“[2400 Nueces] is the premier student housing at UT right now,” Wilson said. “I just think it’s going to be high-quality product for the neighborhood.”

The complex offers amenities including a swimming pool, fitness center, granite countertops, stainless steel appliances and a coffee bar. 

Walter Wukasch II, a University Area Partners board member, said although some may be concerned with the rising cost of living in the campus area, this development will help lower housing costs in the long run by adding housing units where there were none before. University Area Partners acts as the neighborhood association of West Campus.  

“These are upscale units,” Wukasch said. “[But] the total number of units in the neighborhood is going to make it where the new projects are going to have to be more competitive.”

The housing development stands on the lot of what was previously Wooldridge Hall, which housed the University’s International Office, an administrative body of UT that handles study abroad, international students, English as a second language classes and other services. The International Office now operates out of the first and second floors of 2400 Nueces.

Wooldridge Hall was already due for demolition before the University decided to create more student housing, said Amy Wanamaker, campus director of real estate.

“The cost to bring the property up to standards was prohibitive for us, and we needed a more functional building,” Wanamaker said. “These are the reasons we thought of capitalizing the return on the property here by allowing a ground lease. And we didn’t want to sell [the University’s] property.”

Under the terms of the ground lease, the University lends the use of their land for a yearly fee of about $100,000 to Education Realty Trust, which owns and operates college housing across the country and is a $1.8 billion publically-traded company. The company paid the entire $63.9 million cost to develop the building and will receive all profits from its operation.

According to Wanamaker, the University accepted the company’s plan for student housing primarily because of the company’s 50-year history in the student housing industry. This is the first time UT is working with Education Realty Trust.

“Their experience, their ability to work with UT and their desire to be in the market made them a good partner,” Wanamaker said. “We particularly wanted something built that wasn’t a dorm. We have dorms.”

Larry Speck, a UT architecture professor and lead designer for the building, said he designed the building to foster a sense of community among its inhabitants, to be environmentally sustainable and to make the surrounding neighborhood a better urban space.

“We really are conscious about trying to build a nicer West Campus,” Speck said.

Speck also said he designed 2400 Nueces to help change the pattern of UT students moving from one apartment building to to another  every year, which he believes harms students’ chances of forming lasting friendships.

“I hope it’s the kind of building, which is rare at UT, where people actually can move out of living in Jester their freshman year, and they move in here and they stay here for three years,” Speck said.

Follow Tucker Whatley @tuckerwhatley

Junior Geography student Ben Stevens pays to park on the corner of San Antonio and 21st St, one of the 385 new meter spots installed by the city in West Campus. A percentage of the meter fees will go towards funding the upkeep of the streets and sidewalks in the area.

Photo Credit: Maria Arrellaga | Daily Texan Staff

To increase safety and improve maintenance in West Campus, Austin installed 385 parking meters during the break that run up 25th Street to Rio Grande Street and north and south on Rio Grande, San Antonio and Nueces streets north of 24th Street, upsetting students who live in the area.

Leah Fillion, public information specialist for the Austin Transportation Department, said the meters will help improve the safety of the streets, open up parking spots and decongest the West Campus area.

According to Fillion and the University Area Partners, installing the meters cost $328,509.

The Austin Transportation Department installed the meters, which became active on Jan. 2, spokesman Steve Grassfield said. Although the meters became active during the break, Grassfield said the city made efforts to ensure students knew that when they returned, the parking meters would be up and running.

“We had signs installed by [Dec. 7] so the students were aware of the changes,” Grassfield said. 

Student Government submitted a letter to the City of Austin that approved an initial pilot program for the parking meters in West Campus.

Initial meter fees will go toward paying this installation cost. Grassfield said 51 percent of the meter fees will also help pay for the new projects in the area.

For example, the sidewalks on 23rd street benefited from this program.

Grassfield has high hopes for the program and said that in addition to paying for new projects, the meters already funded bike lanes from 19th to 24th streets.

“There are certainly fewer cars on the streets where the meters have been installed,” said Brian Donovan, spokesman of the University Area Partners.

Donovan was the chair of the parking committee that coordinated the parking meter planning and implementation. He said the group coordinated with the Austin City Council during the process.

Donovan and Grassfield both said since the meters were installed the week of Dec. 18 and activated at the beginning of the month, it is too early to tell how the meters are impacting the city and the students.

However, the meters in the busy West Campus streets have not been a popular change with students.

Those who do not live in the West Campus area are also affected by the meters, mechanical engineering junior Kristen Palughi said.

“The one most affected by [the parking meters] are visitors and friends of people who live in West Campus, because most places come with parking for those who live there,” Palughi said.

Printed on Tuesday, January 15th, 2013 as: New meters frustrate students

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this article had several false statements regarding funding from meters, Student Government’s response to the project, the status of 23rd Street and information about construction of bike lanes. Funds from this project will not go to constructing bike lanes from 25th to 29th street and have been used for bike lanes on 19th to 24th streets and will be used for new projects, such as widening the sidewalk. Fifty-one percent of the funds from the meters will go to paying for projects. Student Government submitted a letter of approval to the City of Austin on a pilot of this project. The city has made improvements on 23rd street, and it is in good shape. 

"When you aren’t around people of color and people of color are the hyper-other, then it becomes acceptable to do racist things," said History senior Joshua Tang.

Photo Credit: Zachary Strain | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a three-part series of stories examining the demographics of two neighborhoods where students live ­— West Campus and East Riverside. The next installment, about the makeup and history of Riverside student housing, will run Sept. 21.

The growing diversity of the UT student body has not spurred racial integration in student neighborhoods, census, city and UT records show.

The majority of Asian and white undergraduates living off campus reside in West Campus, while most Hispanic and black undergraduates live in East Riverside.

This trend has intensified in the past 10 years because of a convergence of socioeconomic inequality, disparate living costs in the two areas and alleged discrimination — and some fear it may not change.

Ryan Robinson, demographer for the City of Austin, said population growth in West Campus is the result of massive multi-family complexes built in the neighborhood since 2004 under a plan called the University Neighborhood Overlay.

Many of these new high-rises may not be affordable for Hispanic and black students, who are disproportionately from low-income backgrounds, Robinson said.

“West Campus has long been expensive and recently became enormously more expensive,” Robinson said. “Since income remains, unfortunately, associated with race, it could be that there is more racial segregation.”

These new high-rises also raised the total cost of living in West Campus, possibly creating an income barrier for Hispanic and black students, Robinson said.

According to The Daily Texan’s analysis of demographic data sets, more than 40 percent of all white undergraduates lived in West Campus in 2010, as well as 38 percent of Asian undergraduates. Twenty-two percent of Hispanic undergraduates and 15 percent of black undergraduates also lived in West Campus then.

These numbers are significantly higher for whites and Asians than in 2000, when only 27 percent of white undergraduates and 21 percent of Asian undergraduates lived in West Campus. Fifteen percent of Hispanic undergraduates and no black undergraduates lived in West Campus in 2000.

In Riverside from 2000 to 2010, the white population declined from 44 percent to 29 percent among college-age people, while Asians declined from 9.7 percent to 6 percent. College-age Hispanics increased from 37 percent to 47 percent, and blacks increased from 6.3 percent to 9 percent. The 2010 American Community Survey estimates that 5,598 undergraduates live in Riverside.

“Massive construction started in 2004 and was intended to allow more students to live closer to campus,” Robinson said. “The plan for that construction was to make the new apartments affordable, but the irony is that the exact opposite has occurred.”

The Daily Texan shared this data with city and UT officials, who have not yet returned requests for comment.

A Game of UNO
The University and the neighborhoods around campus were facing a swelling population problem in the late 1990s.

At that time, West Campus was a medley of small and aging apartments that did not allow new development, and the increased size of the UT student body had outgrown available rental housing near campus.

Many students had to commute from apartments across town, which hurt the University and hindered student success, said Mike McHone, a longtime Austin real estate broker who helped design today’s West Campus.

“When you look at the graduation time line, it became extended,” McHone said. “Class scheduling became less efficient and more costly. Alumni funding, it significantly dropped.”

Austin City Council brought the neighborhoods around campus into the Central Austin Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee in 2002 to attract students to West Campus. CANPAC then created the Central Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan in 2004 to manage the future development of the University area.

The University Neighborhood Overlay, or UNO, was a key component, McHone said.

“You knock down [the older, smaller buildings] and build new housing that can house over 300 people on the same piece of land,” McHone said. “What we did was create an overlay to bring the University students back by doing that.”

The University Area Partners, the neighborhood association of West Campus, and developers interested in the area created UNO. It passed unanimously in Austin City Council in 2004. The University did not take a position on the plan at the time of its creation.

Affordable Housing
From 2000 to 2010 West Campus developers added about 5,236 new beds in high-rises, according to UAP. The average cost for a single bedroom in these apartment buildings today is between $900 and $1200, available listings show.

McHone said West Campus was always expensive, but the construction boom following UNO caused the cost of living in West Campus to stay lower than developers expected in 2004. Developers hoped to make high profits but had to offer lower rental rates because so many complexes opened at the same time, he said.

Richie Gill, a Plan II and economics senior who founded real estate agency Mr. West Campus, said the cost of monthly rent in West Campus has risen by 7 percent every year since 2004 and now runs between $700 and $900.

Gill said most of the new high-rises in West Campus are catering to a luxury market and were not built for low-income students.

“You’re going to get a lot of debt from building on expensive property in West Campus,” Gill said. “It wouldn’t make sense for developers to build these expensive buildings and target them for a low-income audience. The new buildings were more targeting a middle-class demographic from a suburb of Houston or Dallas.”

Today, the demographic makeup of West Campus is much different than that of the University.

In 2010, white undergraduates made up 51.7 percent population, compared to 63.8 percent in 2000. Hispanic undergraduates increased from 13.5 to 19.4 percent in the same period. Asian undergraduates increased from 14.9 to 17.9 percent. Black undergrads grew from 3.4 percent to 4.7 percent.

“The Value of Dirt”
Brian Donovan, a member of CANPAC and administrator of the Inter-Cooperative Council, a West Campus cooperative organization, said the cost of all West Campus apartments has risen since UNO as a result of rising property values.

According to Travis Central Appraisal District records, the average value of land occupied by high-rises in West Campus increased from $50 per square foot to $100 per square foot between 2004 and 2012. This led apartment owners to charge more for rent since they had to pay more in property taxes, Donovan said.

“The property taxes of all the land in West Campus went up when the new zoning went in, and you can’t fight the value of the dirt,” Donovan said. “A lot of the older apartments, students are living there, too, but now they are charging high rates because they can get away with it as the area becomes more expensive.”

These property taxes rose in response to demand for land in West Campus, which had became more profitable after UNO, Donovan said.

Inter-Cooperative Council doesn’t pay property taxes because it is a non-profit. Rent for a single room at one of the co-ops has risen from $600 to $685 since 2004 due to increased expenses, Donovan said.

Cathy Norman, president of University Area Partners, said the creators of UNO aimed bring all students to West Campus, not just a middle-class or white demographic.

“What we intended was to create housing for all students, not just any exclusive group,” Norman said. “Now, how we are doing on that is a little bit more of a complex question.”

Norman said UNO has been successful in bringing students closer to campus, but there may be flaws in the plan.

“We probably didn’t focus on ethnic diversity at all when we created this plan. I don’t think it was a priority then,” Norman said. “It takes an ongoing process. It’s not like you can have a static plan for ten years.”

Racial Tension
Even if more housing becomes affordable in West Campus, many black and Hispanic students may still choose not to live there, said physics senior Jazmin Estrada.

Lower prices may not improve an environment that many students of color consider hostile.

“In certain areas of West Campus, especially where there’s a lot of white Greek houses, you feel kind of uncomfortable,” said Estrada, who is a member of the Latino Leadership Council.

Estrada said she moved out of West Campus to Riverside after hearing about balloons filled with bleach being thrown at Hispanic students and seeing Facebook photos of a West Campus theme party where participants dressed up as “Cowboys” and “Illegal Aliens.”

Estrada, whose family moved from Mexico to the Rio Grande Valley before she was born, said she lives in Riverside because she, like many other first-generation students, cannot afford to live in West Campus.

“It’s kind of impossible to live in West Campus if you’re a first-generation college student, it’s so expensive,” said Estrada. “Most of us are on financial aid and a bunch of us could maybe afford to live there, but we would have to give up something else.”

History senior Joshua Tang, who is Asian and black, said part of the problem is low Hispanic and black representation in the area. Most white students in West Campus do not commit racist acts in the neighborhood but may look the other way if racist incidents occur, he said.

“When you aren’t around people of color and people of color are the hyper-other, then it becomes acceptable to do racist things,” said Tang, who is a student associate in the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement.

Tang has also experienced racism in West Campus.

“As I was moving into my apartment in West Campus, someone threw [the n-word] at me from their balcony,” Tang said. “Very recently someone dropped a balloon that had bleach in it very close to me. Thankfully, it missed.”

Tang says some white students believe that students of color receive favorable treatment from University admissions and other programs, which might be why they act racially intolerant.

“There are people from homogeneous areas who think people who belong at the University of Texas should look like them,” said Tang.

Premed freshman Meagan Elferink, a member of Zeta Tau Alpha sorority, said West Campus is less diverse than most parts of Texas. She graduated from Ball High School in Galveston, where she said different racial groups are equally represented. West Campus seems exclusive to students from a “certain type of background,” she said. She lives in the Castillian, a private dormitory at 24th and San Antonio streets.

At Ball, “it didn’t matter where you were from or how much money you had,” Elferink said. “I think that’s a more realistic representation of society.”

The UT Police Department and the Austin Police Department say they have received no reports of bleach-filled balloons being thrown at students.

UT students concerned about alleged racial discrimination in West Campus and at UT will meet at 7 p.m. Sept. 18 in UTC 2.112A. The event will feature student panelists sharing their experiences with discrimination at UT.

Going Forward
Alan Robinson, administrator of West Campus cooperative organization College Houses Cooperatives, is supporting the Affordable Housing Initiative that will go before Austin City Council on Sept. 27.

High-rises built in West Campus since UNO was established must offer between 10 and 20 percent of their units at “affordable” rates, but the definition of what was affordable was very high, Alan Robinson said.

“Someone who qualified for an affordable room was expected to pay a little over $1,000 per month for rent,” Alan Robinson said. “Those were [U.S. Department of] Housing and Urban Development definitions, and weren’t based at all on students.”

The AHI will change the definition of an affordable room from city-wide averages based on families to a different algorithm, lowering it to about $700, he said.

“That’s still pretty high, but I think it’s going to help a lot of people out,” he said.

The AHI will also change the definition of an affordable unit to an affordable bedroom, which Alan Robinson says will double the number of affordable rooms in West Campus.

“They currently have to provide about 20 percent of their units at affordable rates,” he said. “By changing the definition to bedrooms, we think we can double the number of people living in affordable housing.”

West Campus faces both economic and racial challenges. For students choosing whether to live in the neighborhood, the two often go hand in hand.

Home to countless apartment buildings, restaurants, coffee shops and more, West Campus is a big draw to UT students. Just minutes away from campus, this convenient location with endless living options makes West Campus the ideal place for UT students to look for housing. The one problem with West Campus, however, is the lack of parking spots.

Students wishing to visit West Campus could potentially be out of luck; parking is an absolute nightmare. Many students have to park far away from their intended destinations, which can be very unsafe at night. Other students may not be able to find a spot at all. Furthermore, the people that are lucky enough to find parking spots are unlikely to leave them since they do not have to pay, and their chances of finding another spot are slim.

Fortunately, the city of Austin is aware of the parking situation in West Campus and looking for potential solutions. The University Area Partners, a group of stakeholders in the West Campus area, has been diligently working over the past two years on a proposal to add 400 parking meters in West Campus between Rio Grande Street. and Guadalupe Street. The purpose of the parking meters is to regulate the parking situation and control traffic, which is necessary in the area.

Although some students may be upset about having to pay for parking in West Campus, ultimately the meters will be more beneficial than harmful to the students. Additionally, 51 percent of the parking meter revenue will fund neighborhood improvement projects, such as adding new sidewalks and planting more trees. This will only further benefit the students and the West Campus area.

Currently, the University Area Partners is working on revising its proposal and gathering input from West Campus residents. On April 12, the group held an open meeting to help members gauge the reactions of West Campus business owners and residents and see what adjustments can be made to the proposal.

University Area Partners will officially vote on the proposal April 24. If passed, it will be submitted to the city’s transportation department for review by the Urban Transportation Commission. The plan would then go to the Austin City Council for the final vote in the fall.

It is in everyone’s best interests that the West Campus parking problem be addressed in a timely and fair manner. While metered parking is likely to elicit groans from those opposed to costlier parking, the benefits of safer, available parking outweigh that detracting sentiment.

Lapin is a journalism sophomore.

Representative for University Area Partners Brian Donovan leads a discussion about the placement of parking meters at the West Campus parking event on Thursday night. The proposal was put forth because members of the community saw parking in West Campus as a problem.

Photo Credit: Sa Wang | Daily Texan Staff

West Campus residents, business representatives and community leaders are still considering a plan that could put a price on parking in the area as early as next year.

A proposal to introduce a Parking Benefit District was put forth after members of the community raised concerns about parking in West Campus, said Mike McHone, vice president of University Area Partners, a group made up of organizational stakeholders in the West Campus area. If the proposal is approved by City Council, approximately 400 parking meters would be added to the area between Guadalupe St. and Rio Grande St.

Residents and business owners attended a meeting Thursday night to express their approval and concern over the proposal to add the meters. UAP members plan to revise their proposal based on input gathered during the meeting and will present the updated proposal to other residents of the West Campus neighborhood. The proposal will then be submitted to the City’s Transportation Department, where it’s scheduled for review by the Urban Transportation Commission. City council members will receive the proposal following its review by commission members and will vote next fall on whether or not it will go into affect.

McHone said the primary goal of the meeting was to answer any questions and let people know the long and exhaustive process that has gone into this plan.

“This plan has been the result of a two year effort on UAP’s part,” McHone said. “We have been trying to work with students since this came up.”

McHone said the meters would help ensure there is not an out of control parking situation in West Campus.

“If the meters are put in there, the parking situation will be better and traffic control will be enforced,” McHone said. “If people have to pay for parking they will realize the cost of car equity.”

Urban studies senior John Lawler is a member of the Central Austin Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee, which represents neighborhoods where many UT students live. Lawler said he is not in support of the meters, and he said the city is placing this burden on students because they are trying to find alternative sources of funding. Lawler has opposed the idea of parking meters in West Campus since the proposal to implement them was approved by City Council members in October.

“If they do end up succeeding we need to make it clear that parking meters will not cut it,” Lawler said. “I can’t see parking meters as a solution for the situation.”

The proposal states 51 percent of the parking meter revenue will be allocated for neighborhood improvement projects. However, Lawler said the program would provide minimal financial benefits.

“One of the ideas that was thrown around instead was to create a special taxing zone to try and get it reinvested in the area,” Lawler said. “What we really need to do though is really advocate in the next bond election for the funds directly.”

Brian Donovan, representative for UAP at the event, said he is in favor of adding the parking meters because he said it will create a higher turnover of parking in the area.

“You can’t park with the way it works now,” Donovan said. “Right now there are about 900 parking spots, and if you find one you are probably less likely to leave.”

Printed on Friday, April 13, 2012 as: Possible parking meters to be added to West Campus area

An ordinance being considered by Austin City Council aims to place restrictions on the creation of cooperatives and Greek-style “group housing” in areas of North Campus.

University Area Partners — the neighborhood association which controls the West Campus area — considered a proposed zoning overlay district at a meeting Tuesday afternoon. The district would create limitations on building “group housing” in the parts of UAP that lie north of Dean Keeton Street. Group housing includes fraternities, sororities and cooperative housing.

The proposed district has been discussed among other neighborhood associations in the area, as well, and would affect the area that lies outside the University Neighborhood Overlay, where high density is desired, said Cathy Norman, a member of UAP. Much of the support for zoning overlay districts comes from single-family homeowners who don’t appreciate all that comes with living by a fraternity or co-op housing, she said.

The proposed zoning overlay district would raise problems for existing Greek housing as well as for co-ops looking to purchase land north of Dean Keeton Street, Norman said.

“The student body objects, for obvious reasons,” she said. “It limits the use for fraternities and sororities and group residential co-ops — other low-income options.”

The zoning overlay district will eventually be voted on by the Central Austin Neighborhood Planning Area Commission, a committee made up of two members of Student Government and representatives from neighborhood associations located in areas with heavy student populations. The zoning overlay district was proposed without input or compromise from the student renters who make up the majority of the CANPAC area, said John Lawler, SG liberal arts representative and CANPAC member.

If a zoning overlay district is implemented by CANPAC, it would negatively affect affordable housing by encouraging developers to build multi-family apartment complexes for density instead of less expensive group housing like cooperatives, he said.

“What we’re basically doing is incentivizing one style of development, which is the less-affordable, newer, nicer apartment-style building,” he said. “We’re putting a burden on affordable housing which creates a sense of unease within the market.”

Cooperative housing is generally a better housing system than apartment complexes for student living, said community member Mac McKaskle. Affordable housing is a necessity in college neighborhoods, he said.

Noise and other issues that single-family homeowners may have with group housing come with living in a college neighborhood, McKaskle said.

“If you’re living in a major city next to a major university, wake up,” he said. “You’re going to be next to college students. If you have a problem with your neighbors having a deck that’s loud, go knock on their door. When we were in college and we were too loud, that’s what they did. And we were a lot noisier and louder in the ’70s than kids nowadays.” 

A West Campus neighborhood association could try and install up to 400 new parking meters in the area after City Council approved an ordinance Thursday.

City Council passed a resolution that sets up a process for neighborhood associations to install parking meters and use a little more than half of the profits for infrastructure improvement and to promote alternative modes of transportation. Neighborhood organizations that wish to install meters and create a parking benefit district must hold a meeting so that community members can vote on the proposed district before it goes to the director or to council.

The council passed the resolution unanimously at yesterday’s meeting, said Matt Parkerson, executive assistant in the office of councilman and sponsor of the ordinance Chris Riley. The ordinance requires that a representative of a neighborhood organization that wishes to apply for a parking benefit district file an application with the director of the Austin Department of Transportation and then with the City Council.

Many members of the Central Austin Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee, a group of representatives from neighborhoods with heavy student populations, including the University Area Partners, support installing parking meters. UAP, a group of churches, realtors and other groups with stakes in West Campus, aims to have about 400 parking meters installed in the area, said John Lawler, a member of CANPAC. While 51 percent of net funds from the meters are required to be set aside for improvements in the district, the amount of money that will be made from the meters will not make much of a dent, he said.

“The models for it are based upon typical sidewalks, while we have large pedestrian avenues and bicycle lanes,” Lawler said. “The phrase we’ve been using is ‘You’re just spitting in the ocean.’ It’s not going to make that big of a difference.”

Students can fight any proposal that UAP makes before it even reaches the council, Lawler said. Even if it can’t be stopped at the public forum, they can follow it to the council, he said.

“We have never heard or sensed that the majority would be in support of parking meters in West Campus,” he said. “We’re working off that assumption. When we held a town hall last session and brought up the subject, every student in the room was against it.”

CANPAC and the UAP believe that creating a parking benefit district in the West Campus area will make parking garage prices more competitive and contribute to improved lighting in West Campus, which will cut down on nighttime crime, said Brian Donovan, a member of CANPAC and University Area Partners. It may take years until any improvements are made, but eventually the meters would fund West Campus infrastructure including improved bike and pedestrian lanes, he said.

“There are students who have argued angrily that it’s a tax on students, but it’s a tax on drivers to make bikers and pedestrians safer,” Donovan said. “I think it’s fair enough for students to be angry, but the reality is that these improvements cost money.”

The construction on Rio Grande Street will make way for a two-way bike lane, more parking on the east side of the street and a 12-foot renovated streetscape, according to a University Area Partners official.

The project is one of several others currently underway in West Campus, including a construction project behind the 7-Eleven on 26th Street and a project on 24th Street and Longview Street, said John Lawler, Student Government liberal arts representative. The project on Rio Grande Street will bring more change and more improvement than the others, he said.

“Right off the bat, the more disruptive project in West Campus is the Rio Grande Street one,” he said. “Something really cool about it is that it ultimately looks so different from how it was originally proposed.”

The bike lane will be the first of its kind in Austin, and both lanes will eventually stretch from Martin Luther King Boulevard to 29th Street, Lawler said.

“The thing to always remember about West Campus infrastructure is that local developers influence so much of it,” he said. “The Rio Grande reconstruction in West Campus is a good sign for students that the city is actually trying to upgrade the area.”

The project will improve pedestrian and bike traffic up and down Rio Grande Street, said Mike McHone, vice president and city council liaison of UAP. The UAP group working on the project is composed of SG and other UT organizations along with city officials to make sure that the area around campus is kept acceptable, said McHone.

The Environmental Protection Agency sued the city in the 1980s for failing sewage systems on Rio Grande Street, McHone said. The UAP decided to try to improve water lines, drainage and the bike infrastructure and streetscape on Rio Grande, he said.

“Student Government is already on board,” he said. “Right now, bikes go where they go, but we want more bike infrastructure so bicycles can move more freely.”

The Parking Benefit District has nearly $300,000 to contribute to the project, McHone said. The director of the PBD, Howard Lazarus, has advocated for the construction project, he said.

“We were finally able to convince property owners to go for a two-lane bike lane,” McHone said. “It will be a very good improvement given the increased number of bicycles in the area.”

During the parks administration, the SG assembly passed a resolution in favor of improving roadways and bike infrastructure in West Campus, said SG President Natalie Butler. She said SG is in support of the Rio Grande construction.

Printed on Thursday, September 29, 2011 as: Construction to make roads biker-friendly
 

Austin is showing a growing affinity for using parking meters to increase revenue. Recently, parking meter hours were extended downtown to include weeknights and Saturdays. City meter hours at the University were extended until 6 p.m., and these meters are now enforced on Saturdays.

Over the past year, University Area Partners, the neighborhood group that represents the interests of West Campus residents — and in practice often amounts to the interests only of West Campus business owners — has been working with the city to install parking meters in West Campus. This would mean that 400 spaces in West Campus that are currently free would either be metered or would be linked to specific addresses.

The plan was delayed last spring because of Student Government opposition, but a revised implementation scheme was approved last night at the meeting of the city’s Urban Transportation Committee.

The ordinance outlines the process and requirements for creating what is called a “Parking Benefits District.” A district would allow for a part of revenue from meters in an area to be returned to that neighborhood to improve its transportation infrastructure. The money could be used to improve sidewalks and streetlights, to cite the most common examples.

The plan has improved from its original form. A key change was to require a community meeting before any plan can be implemented in a neighborhood. The views of residents in an area will now need to be considered, unlike before.

But the proposal voted on Tuesday night still has one major problem. The proposed profit sharing model originally split profits 70-30, with 30 percent staying in the neighborhood and 70 percent going to the city. The new plan changed the split so that 51 percent of the profits will now stay in the neighborhood.

This revision seems beneficial. But the profit sharing kicks in only after maintenance and enforcement costs have been recovered from revenue. The old version of the plan had a similar provision, but it defined what constituted maintenance and did not include enforcement.

The new plan leaves open the question of how much money will be taken out to pay for overhead before the profit sharing scheme distributes the remaining funds. And it has been estimated that including enforcement as something meter revenue will pay for will cost enough that the increased profit percentage will amount to only about $1,000 more staying in the district.

This sleight of hand does not change the fundamental situation – that not enough money would stay in West Campus to make metered parking a fair deal for the area’s residents.

The ordinance’s neighborhood meeting requirement could be used to prevent the installation of parking meters. But very few students have been involved in this process so far, and it is unlikely that more will be involved in the future.

Affordability is already a problem at this University. The city should pay for safety and infrastructure improvements in any case, and nickel-and-diming students to cover costs which should fall on property owners is not responsible.

Students should not be faced with the large inconvenience of metered parking in West Campus given the marginal benefits that they will see as a result. Either the amount of money staying in West Campus should increase dramatically or the meters should stay out.