Building boom continues near UTA

Posted Monday, Jul. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A building boom near the University of Texas at Arlington is continuing with developers proposing to tear down two aging apartment developments on the edge of the campus and replacing them with larger complexes.

One of the complexes would be built by Greystar, which has student housing in Austin, Denton and San Marcos. Greystar is seeking city approval for a 229-unit apartment complex called Arlington Lofts. The development would replace the two-story, 120-unit Catalina Apartments at 815 W. Abram St., just west of Cooper Street.

With a seven-story parking garage and more spacious units, Arlington Lofts would be significantly larger than two other privately developed student housing projects — the Midtown Urban Student Living and Campus Edge apartments — that have opened nearby on UTA Boulevard to serve the university in recent years.

“They are trying to redevelop it as an apartment complex but with more density,” said Gincy Thoppil, a planning manager with the city. “It’s increasing the pedestrian activity that comes with the density. For downtown, that is a good thing.”

In the meantime, plans are moving forward with a proposed 335-unit complex at the northeast corner of south Center and Hosack streets, just north of Mitchell Street, on the east side of UT Arlington.

In May, the 4-acre site was sold to Maxum Development in Irving by Lev Investments, which planned a five-story student housing complex. Lev Investments is staying on as an equity partner in the project, said Gary Perkins, a Maxum principal.

Maxum has applied to replat the property for the so-called Sapphire development. Perkins declined to offer details about the project or when construction will begin. In June, the developers agreed to maintain an alley on site for the city of Arlington.

But while some city officials are pleased with the new development around the university, others are raising concerns that, in the future, the proliferation of apartment complexes will lead to a repeat of the problems the city has had in the past with apartments deteriorating over time and driving down property values.

Bigger project

Greystar’s proposed development plan is set to be reviewed by the Arlington Planning and Zoning Commission on July 17. Lance Hanna, Greystar’s managing director of development for student living, could not be reached for comment.

The Catalina Apartments, built in 1969, are located on Abram Street near Proctor Place. Greystar proposes to replace those with a complex and a parking garage with 651 spaces on a 4.2-acre site, according to a city staff report.

The project is far larger than the nearby Midtown Urban Student Living apartment complex, which has 66 units and 225 surface parking spaces, and Campus Edge, which has 128 units and a five-story parking garage with 541 spaces, according to a staff report. Campus Edge and Midtown are also four stories tall.

The Sapphire development will replace about 100 aging apartments, some dating to the early 1960’s.

In November 2012, the Arlington City Council agreed to a 90 percent tax abatement for five years, which will total more than $1.1 million, on the Sapphire development. The council also agreed to give the developer up to $650,000 for demolition and site-preparation costs and to waive up to $342,000 worth of construction-related fees.

The recent interest in privately built student housing around the growing university isn’t surprising, said Perry Pillow with the Apartment Association of Tarrant County. UT Arlington’s spring enrollment this year hit a record 33,806 students, according to the university website.

“Developers are going to go where the projects are more viable and where it is easy to do,” Pillow said. “I think you will see more coming on in the next few years.”

UTA’s enrollment has grown an average 3 to 4 percent during the past 10 years and is expected to continue growing at a similar rate, said John Hall, vice president for administration and campus operations.

With privately funded student housing apartments such as Midtown and Campus Edge and interest from other developers in properties around the university’s borders, Hall said, “It is apparent that more students favor living closer in.”

‘Huge gamble’

But not everyone supports the increase in apartment complexes downtown.

Some residents unsuccessfully fought to block the Midtown Urban project in 2010, calling the four-story complex a “monolithic monster” that would overshadow the character of the homes along Davis Drive. Arlington City Council narrowly approved the development plan for what was then known as “Maverick Village” by a 5-4 vote.

Grace Darling, president of the Heart of Arlington Neighborhood Association, said she believes Arlington is taking “a huge gamble” by approving new apartment complexes when the city is already dealing with dilapidated conditions and falling property values at its existing apartment complexes, many of which were built in the 1970s.

“I wonder if the City Council 30 years from now is going to do another double take and say ‘Whoa, what did we do? What were we thinking to allow all these complexes that are just not holding up?’” said Darling, adding that she doesn’t believe the city’s building standards are strict enough.

Even though the university’s enrollment is growing now, Darling said she wonders if that trend will continue once the economy improves and more people return to the workforce.

“They see the moment and they try to seize it, but I am wondering if they are looking five to 10 years down the line when more and more UTA classes are going online,” Darling said about apartment developers. “Remote learning is going to remove some of that market they are counting on, I think. I can see the UTA enrollment leveling out when the economy gets better.”

UT Arlington offers more than 700 online courses, according to its website. According to a report released earlier this year by New America Foundation, 42 percent of Arlington students take at least one class online and 27 percent are enrolled exclusively online.

The Arlington school district sent a letter to the city expressing concern about the project’s proposed density and the possibility that “the property could change from strictly university housing in the future.”

“Additional multifamily units will strain the district’s ability to provide adequate educational facilities for the area served by [the complex],” the letter states.

Staff writer Sandra Baker contributed to this report, wich contains material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Susan Schrock, 817-390-7639 Twitter: @susanschrock

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