A neighborhood conservation overlay, which has been met with both strong support and opposition from residents, was approved Thursday by the College Station City Council for about 127 acres in the historic Southside area.
The overlay is a type of zoning district that will be placed “over” the existing general suburban zoning for the area south of the Texas A&M University campus generally located southeast of George Bush Drive between the lots on the west side of Fairview Avenue and the lots on the east side of Lee Avenue. The council’s vote in favor of the overlay was unanimous aside from Councilwomen Linda Harvell and Elianor Vessali, who live in the area and recused themselves from the vote and discussion.
Three additional standards will be placed on new development within the boundaries of the “Heart of Southside” overlay, which includes the College Park, South Oakwood and Dulaney subdivisions, and parts of Woodson Village Phase 1 and 2. Applicants for the overlay believe the following development standards they selected will help preserve the character of the Southside area:
• A maximum building height of 33 feet, which is a reduction of the current 35-foot maximum and is intended to prevent three-story structures from being built. The median building height of existing properties is 20 feet.
• Requiring trees eight inches in diameter or greater outside the “buildable area” of a lot to be barricaded and preserved during the construction process. Any tree could still be removed before or after construction.
• A minimum lot size of 8,500 square feet, while retaining the average lot width requirements of the current subdivision rules.
A neighborhood stakeholder committee gathered 147 valid petition signatures in support of the overlay, representing 56 percent of property owners in the area. An opposing protest petition, meanwhile, represented 45 properties that were against the overlay.
Councilman Jerome Rektorik noted before the vote that while the overlay process brought some neighbors closer together, it also created “tension and anxiety.”
“This issue has caused a lot of division in the neighborhood, and frankly, even in the communities beyond this neighborhood, and we need to put this behind us,” Rektorik said. “I believe the zoning changes do follow the current language in the [Unified Development Ordinance] and the neighbors have done everything they have been asked to do. ... I sincerely hope we can now find a way to stand together on common ground, because we do not need any more division in our city or our community.”
Opponents of the plan who spoke during the public hearing criticized the overlay’s boundaries, calling them arbitrarily drawn and exclusive of some adjacent properties. Concerns over how the overlay will affect property values and the process itself were also expressed.
The neighborhood stakeholder representatives attempted to address some of the opponents’ critiques.
“I really don’t believe this effort’s been a fight, but rather a showing of citizens being engaged, proactive and willing to work together to create a positive future for their neighborhood as defined in the stated purpose of a single-family overlay district,” said David Shellenberger, one of the applicants.
Hays Glover, another member of the stakeholder committee, said the group that pushed for the overlay enjoys living alongside A&M students — anti-student sentiment has been mentioned by opponents — and that restricting the number of unrelated tenants who can live in a home has never been a goal of the overlay. Southside residents love their neighborhoods, Glover said, and with no deed restrictions or homeowners associations, the overlay process is the only mechanism to help preserve the character of the area.
Mayor Karl Mooney called the approval of the overlay a move “in the right direction” as the city continues to evaluate its neighborhood conservation overlay process, which allows groups of neighborhood stakeholders to select additional development standards to impose within the boundaries of an overlay to help protect their area. Thursday’s action, Mooney said, shows that the city has provided a “limited but usable toolbox” for neighborhoods to help guide their futures.
“We’re not imposing, I don’t believe, a huge number of restrictions that are untenable,” Mooney said.