After debating a zoning ordinance that would allow a new off-campus housing development within walking distance of the UTD campus, Richardson city council deferred voting on the issue.
The meeting on Nov. 14 centered around rezoning 13 acres of land north of campus between Waterview Parkway and President George Bush Turnpike. The rezoning would make way for ATRE Waterview, a mixed-use development within walking distance of campus including 510 total apartment units, a shuttle to UTD, retail spaces, restaurants and a limited-service hotel. The council deferred making a decision to allow their staff to meet with the developer, put the finer details in writing and reconvene for a final vote on Dec. 12.
The Richardson city council previously denied several other requests for zoning accommodations from the same developer, George Bush Highway Investment and Affordable Space Rental 2018. In December 2020, traffic and safety concerns were cited, including comments from UT Dallas Vice President for Facilities and Economic Development Calvin Jamison who voiced concerns that the project might “oversaturate the market” while students were attending school online.
In September 2021, the council denied another revised request to rezone because the plan wouldn’t align with the land use map which designated the region as property for “regional employment,” according to community impact.
City council members raised concerns at the November 2022 meeting over various elements of the development’s design, including parking minimums and phasing. Two plots would compose the development: subarea 1—student-focused housing—and subarea 2—the hotel and retail spaces. They sought a guarantee that if construction on subarea 1 was approved, then subarea 2 would be built.
“We would agree to subarea , a 0.8 parking ratio … [and] that subarea 2, that everything would be under construction, going vertical, with the exception of the hotel before the certificate of occupancy is issued for subarea 1,” council member Ken Hutchenrider said.
Council members also raised concerns over affordability.
“To make sure I understand, y’all have talked about the market price and so forth,” council member Bob Dubey said. “I think it’s clear we need to make sure we understand that this is not affordable housing. So how much it will cost to occupy or rent or lease these buildings, I think it’s gonna be expensive, or like you said, market value or market price. I do know that the college is planning on doing a bunch of new revitalization and a lot of housing on campus. So, it bothers me a little bit that this is promoted as student housing.”
In total, 21 UTD students attended the meeting to show their support for the zoning change. Five UTD students spoke at the meeting in favor of the development. Comets for Better Transit, a student organization devoted to transit and housing advocacy, organized student turnout for the event. Prior to the vote, the organization circulated a petition for students in support of the development, which by Nov. 14 had received 200 signatures.
Daniel Yahalom, computer science junior and president of Comets for Better Transit, spoke on both the lack of housing and high rents in the area surrounding campus. In the past year, the average UV floor plan saw an 3% increase in per-semester rent. The average monthly rent at Northside increased by 16%.
“The crisis our university is facing is not just a housing shortage, but a housing affordability crisis,” Yahalom said. “It is not something that is going to be caused by the construction of some luxury apartments, it is something that is happening because supply simply cannot meet demand. Right now, neither the university nor Northside have any serious plans to address the shortage in the short term. Since 2018, attendance has increased by over 4,000 students, while housing capacity has increased by zero. This is the only serious solution attempting to address this right now.”
UTD Student Government passed a resolution on Oct. 25 in approval of the zoning file. According to Griffin Davis — who spoke on behalf of Student Government — last spring, 2,325 students signed up for university housing, while only 1,717 beds were available.
“In total, there are 6,094 beds on campus, with plans to only add 1,300,” Davis said. “And that’s plans —aspirational plans — to serve a campus population of around 30,000 people. That math doesn’t add up to me … any delay to the availability of student housing is an undue burden on the students of our university. Please allow this developer to provide us with what we so desperately need. Don’t stand in the way of them providing it to us. Please approve the zoning file.”
Despite not voting on or codifying any city ordinance for the site, the seven-member council agreed with the developer’s ratio of beds to parking spaces and plans for phasing the building process.
“We’re violently agreeing. I don’t think you understand that you’ve just won,” Richardson Mayor Paul Voelker said. “Just let us put it in writing and we’ll vote on it.”