Cathy Norman

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.

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.”