As student housing continues to be a hot topic, the Raleigh City Council approved a measure Tuesday to have the Planning Department to work with the city attorney to address the issue through the new zoning code, also known as the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).
“There’s a long legal history as it relates to student housing,” said Chief Planner Mitchell Silver. “That’s why we have to work very closely with city attorney’s office.”
Unlike dormitory, sorority and fraternity housing, student housing isn’t a defined legal term, which makes it hard to regulate. Students who are not living in a dorm-like setting could be living in rented apartments and rented single-family homes.
Since municipalities can’t create separate regulations for different groups of people, like students, they have to be creative when implementing certain laws or codes.
“You cannot treat students any differently than a normal citizen,” Silver said. “However, you can regulate parking and you can regulate the number of individuals living in a home.”
The proposed UDO addresses student housing by way of parking regulations. The new code would prohibit private streets in multi-unit developments, allowing the city to post no parking signs or regulate congestion. The new code would also regulate and increase the number of resident and visitor parking spaces required for each unit.
At the city council’s Budget and Economic Development meeting April 26, Mayor Charles Meeker suggested issuing a special use permit and encouraging more development closer to the university. Silver responded that a special use permit would have to be tied to a zoning district and some research would have to be done to confirm that it would be legal.
Councilman Thomas Crowder said in his research, he found that there are other municipalities dealing with the student housing problem using special districts and creating a definition for student housing.
“I’m having a hard time understanding why we can not do the same for this dormitory-style housing specifically targeted and marketed to students,” Crowder said.
Silver provided the committee with a list of Supreme Court cases, citing the problems municipalities have had when trying to regulate student housing. Kirch v. Prince Georges County, for example, overturned a restriction on the amount of off-campus housing. He said more research would have to be done for areas that Crowder had suggested.
Mary Bell Pate was the only member of the public to speak against student housing at the meeting.
“When the students live in our neighborhoods they turn the garages into their party rooms,” she said adding that there is plenty of land around the schools that developers could use to build housing for students. “It’s very frustrating that powerful companies come in and destroy neighborhoods.”
The catalyst for the discussion was the Stanhope Development that was approved in 2008. The mixed-use high-rise building near Hillsborough Street is being built to accommodate about 1,000 students.
While the development was finally approved, it was not without opposition from the community.
“The public was saying we encourage dormitory-style housing, like Stanhope,” Silver explained. “But then there was community opposition to Stanhope.”
He went on to say that the there will need to be more discussion with the public to find out why there was a push against the development.
“That’s the mixed message that developers have been watching,” he said adding that some developers no longer want to do business in Raleigh.
Another issue is regulating behavior. At the committee meeting Crowder said that many of these students are moving off campus so that they aren’t bound by the rules of the college.
“Typically, there’s a small percentage of students who do not behave appropriately,” said Silver. “The question typically is do you want to regulate student housing because there are five, 10 or 20 students living in homes that are really a bad example for the hundreds of hundreds [that have] no complaints?”