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MAYOR'S MINUTE: Maddox urges pause on student rental housing proposals

MAYOR'S MINUTE: Maddox urges pause on student rental housing proposals

In 2013, the City created the Student Rental Housing Task Force (SRHTF) in response to several “mega” apartment sites being constructed on the vacant land that resulted from the April 27, 2011 tornado, as well as the growing student enrollment at The University of Alabama (UA).

SRHTF did fantastic work by recommending several significant measures that were ultimately adopted by the City Council. The recommendations adopted included denying rezonings for multifamily housing that were in excess of 200 beds, implementing impact fees for water and sewer and initiating the process of updating the City of Tuscaloosa’s comprehensive plan.

However, if a property had an existing right to construct multifamily housing, then the moratorium did not apply. Property rights are constitutionally protected; thus, the City’s moratorium could not apply. Today, there are over 400 properties in the City who can build multifamily housing by right.

For several years, SRHTF efforts were able to slow down the number of petitions, but in the last several months, there has been a proliferation of multifamily housing requests, especially in the immediate surrounding areas of UA. It is impossible to quantify the exact reasons, but regardless, the City needs to take action - I believe the time has come to strengthen the work of SRHTF and confront this new challenge head-on.

Before I go any further, I want to note that the City does not construct residential, commercial or industrial developments. Furthermore, the City cannot deny future rezoning requests based solely on “having too many apartments.”  We are in the process of completing a comprehensive housing study, which is essential to the success of our comprehensive plan. The study and updated plan will then be used to support the Council’s decision for rezoning requests.

In January, Councilor Matt Calderone, who is active in the planning process, is going to propose a strategic pause, similar to what was proposed in 2013. If adopted, it will be effective Jan. 30, 2019 and the following policy matters will likely be considered:

  1. Providing a definition of workforce housing and/or affordable housing
  2. Providing a definition of student-oriented housing versus conventional and affordable housing
  3. Enhancing infrastructure requirements and projections regarding all developments
  4. Determining projected on-campus enrollment growth at UA
  5. Designing additional impact fees to invest in the City’s infrastructure
  6. Defining geographical boundaries where certain exceptions/limitations need to exist
  7. Defining a density limit
  8. Ensuring integration with the ongoing comprehensive plan
  9. Reviewing the recommendations from the Framework steering committee

Enacting a strategic pause and/or adopting any new zoning ordinances will likely be subject to litigation. To that end, the City must be able to quantify, within the parameters of state law, the need for zoning amendments.

I anticipate this new review by the Council will take several months. During that time, we will be engaging with our stakeholders.  In the interim, I strongly encourage the Planning Commission and the Council to table any “mega” student-oriented housing projects that have already been submitted to the City until such time that the impacts to infrastructure, public safety, transportation, quality of life and future land use can be measured. 

To keep updated on any public hearings and discussions on this matter, follow the City’s social media channels. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at mayor@tuscaloosa.com.