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Thread: Downtown residential density in college towns

  1. #1
    Member
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    Athens, GA
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    Downtown residential density in college towns

    Due to the economic recession, the close proximity to the university campus, and the allowance of 200 bedrooms per acre, downtown Athens is experiencing an increasing turnover of commercial properties to student housing development, which has raised infrastructure and land use concerns.

    How do other college towns regulate residential density in their downtown areas? Do you have a maximum allowed density by number of bedrooms or dwelling units per acre, or is it limited by other standards, such as FAR and dwelling unit size?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    (While I don't work there), Fort Collins, CO has encouraged residential densities and urbanist design near the University (which is actually about a 15-20 minute walk from the downtown, but it's all walkable pre-war neighborhoods in between). So one option may be to zone other areas for dense housing. In Fort Collins, housing prices and a diversity of demand (beyond students) in the downtown itself probably made it less attractive for student housing.

    I would ask what the community's specific concern is. If the concern is loss of commercial space, do any streets require first-floor commercial frontage? If the concern is preservation, is there a historic district? Or is it the overall change in tone of downtown with lots of student-oriented housing?

    I myself am not a fan of downtown density limits, beyond form and height restrictions, reasonable parking standards, etc. In Boulder, we effectively had three separate limits on density (by height, by units per acre, and by FAR limits) that didn't always agree with each other, and this only seemed to make for a lot of work for architects and grumbling by applicants ...

  3. #3
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    It sounds like the issues are infrastructure capacity of commercial vs. high density residential as far as fixture counts, etc. and the loss of an active streetface of commercial establishments. I've found the unit/acre calculation can be a bit problematic for student-oriented residential, as those often lease by the room and create issues in defining # of units (sounds like you've already hit on this issue by basing the density on bedroom rather than unit count), etc. Instead, I would go with a simple approach requiring first floor commercial coupled with height limits rather than density, which is too easily manipulated.

    I'm assuming parking is not an issue, since you didn't bring it up.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  4. #4
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    Thank you for your questions and comments. To follow up, ground floor commercial is required unless given special use approval for ground floor residential use. Parking is also required for residential use. Some of the downtown is in a local designated historic district. The main concerns are the higher sanitary sewer demands and change of primary land use in certain areas of downtown.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Portland, ME
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    I know that some places have limited college student housing by requiring a maximum number of people per acre who are NOT related (with an unlimited number for those who are), or something along these lines. I also know that this caused a legal stir, and have not followed up on it at all, so beware this may be a path to avoid, although it may also be a trick to make sure families are allowed while frat houses are not. Brunswick Maine went through something similar lately and it is in the media so any google search should bring it up.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Sometimes it can be limited by unrelated persons. However, be wary of the older apartment buildings in college towns. Students and parents are commonly seeking for new apartment buildings with modern standards (in-room or floor washer/dryer), high-speed internet, etc. Focusing on over regulating new student housing developments may leave a blind side and open the opportunity for existing apartment buildings trending toward occupancy by less-than-desirable persons at the "cheap college prices" and a true town/gown conflict. With the town likely not supporting the poorer classes. Just something to keep in mind. Look comprehensively at your apartment inventory (existing and planned).

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