Time to Loosen Restrictions

RECEIVED Tue., Oct. 2, 2007

Dear Editor,
    I live in the same neighborhood and the same street as Scott Barnes did [“Postmarks” online, Oct. 1] and have a very different perspective. Yes, it's noisy, and yes, there are a lot of parked sport utility vehicles. But the students are in these superduplexes and McDorms because the leadership of the Central Austin neighborhood associations successfully prevented essentially any apartments from being built in the area until a few years ago.
    Students want to live close to campus – I'm amazed that anybody ever bought into the idea that they'd be thrilled to live in a crappy suburban wasteland on the other end of a shuttle-bus route. If they can't live in apartments close to campus, the market will find another way to accommodate the pent-up demand – that being rental houses, and developers will explore every loophole to make it happen. Plugging loophole after loophole is a lost cause here.
    In general, around here, the students living in apartment complexes and in garage apartments behave pretty well – their landlords have an incentive to make sure they do so (impact on other tenants). Individual rental houses present no such incentive. So what did our neighborhood do about it? Outlawed garage apartments on most lots where they were traditionally built and opposed every apartment complex for decades.
    I like living near students. A few drive, but mostly they warehouse their vehicles during the week while they ride their bikes and take the bus and even walk to school and provide a lot of good energy to our neighborhood. We should be encouraging development patterns, which lead to responsible student tenant behavior, which means allowing small-scale multifamily and secondary-dwelling infill – but we've recently gone the other way with a bad neighborhood plan and with McMansion.
    The long overdue loosening of previously absurd height restrictions in West Campus is a small step in the right direction, but it will take a very long time to fix these last few decades of stupid policy in this regard.
Mike Dahmus
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