Naked City

Battle O'er the Villas, Part 90

In a press release sent out Wednesday, March 20, representatives of the North University and Heritage Neighborhood Associations claim to have "uncovered a scheme" by the developers of the Villas on Guadalupe upscale student housing complex to "buy off" parties who had originally opposed a ultra-dense zoning designation for the project. Sited for a mostly vacant plot between the Drag and Hemphill Park, the Villas plan includes 150 units and a 395-space parking garage. The City Council plans to take up the project on third and final reading today (Thursday), and with only two council members firmly opposed, could approve conditional multifamily (MF)-6 zoning -- a designation unprecedented in the immediate area.

Favoring the less-dense MF-4 designation for the Villas, NUNA had filed a valid petition request against the developers' requested (and city staff-recommended) MF-6-CO for Tract One and CS-MU-CO for Tract Two, both with conditions; the petition would take six council votes to overrule. When council last acted on the Villas, March 8, members approved it on second reading but delayed the third reading. NUNA feared they'd lose signatures during the interim due to developer pressure on petition supporters. Now it appears their worries have been confirmed: At least two property owners have removed their signatures, invalidating NUNA's petition.

In their release, NUNA accuses the Villas developers of offering money to surrounding property owners -- including Kirby Hall School -- in exchange for their removing their names from the petition. According to NUNA President Jerry Roemisch and Kirby Hall Chairwoman of the Board Beverly Rase, the developer offered $500,000 to one property owner, and, in turn, proposed selling the property to Kirby Hall (which hopes to expand) for $295,000 with no down payment. Kirby Hall rejected the proposal. "The developer was offering to finance the balance," Roemisch said. "I think it shows the financial pressure shown by this developer. It just smells of big money being thrown around to make the deal fly."

But Villas project consultant Mike McHone says that's just the way the market works. He wouldn't comment on NUNA's charges due to rules established by the Texas Real Estate Commission that prohibit licensed real estate agents from disclosing confidential contract information, but said several parties have removed themselves from the petition of their own accord. "What's really happened here, is when we sit and discuss with people, lots of them come off the petition based on just getting more information," he said. "Once they are aware of what the complete picture is, and how this use is so much better than any other use, they support it." Project supporters assert that a student housing complex built close to campus will create much less traffic than a hotel or other commercial development on the site.

Meanwhile, NUNA has asked council for a postponement in order to reinstate their petition as valid. "We are optimistic we'll receive it," said Roemisch.

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