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Tyler commissioners deny student housing zoning request

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TYLER (TYLER MORNING TELEGRAPH) - Plans to build more student housing in Tyler were put on hold Tuesday after the city's Planning and Zoning Commission denied a developer's zoning request.
The denial came for two reasons -- improper wording in an agreement letter the developer, Texas Student Living, submitted for city water and utilities, and no escrow fund on file for street improvements to McDonald Road.

"The applicant submitted their version of the (utilities) letter, but it doesn't meet our qualifications," City Planner Heather Nick told commissioners, who are meeting at the Liberty Theater while the city council chambers undergo renovations. Ms. Nick said the developers had a right to appeal the commission's decision to the city council.

In October, the owners of Texas Student Living, then called Texas Student Housing, presented the city council with plans to build an "upscale, gated housing complex that caters to students" on an 18.96-acre portion of land at the intersection of McDonald Road and Haverhill Drive.

Because part of the land is outside of city limits, the city also required the developers sign an agreement to annex to make sure everything is unified for emergency response services, Ms. Nick said.

The plans have called for the development to include six five-story apartment buildings with two clubhouses, to take place in three phases, with construction of Phase I to get underway by August 2013. "Any delay could be a problem," Tom Washington, one of the owners of Texas Student Living, said to commissioners Tuesday.

Washington also said his company "was unwilling to pay the escrow (for the McDonald Road improvements) until we get our utility problem solved." But Ms. Nick said the escrow must be paid before commissioners can approve the zoning request. The property is currently zoned as a planned-multi-family district, but the developers wanted the almost 19-acre property to be divided into three lots to implement the three phases of construction.

The Tyler City Council signed off on the plan in October, but some council members raised concerns about the proposed project, saying there already is a surplus of student housing in Tyler.

Councilman Mark Whatley also referenced a string of shootings, robberies and assaults reported at the Cambridge and Varsity Place apartments earlier this year, asking how Washington's student housing would be different. The Cambridge and Varsity Place apartments house some students.

Tyler Junior College students will get some parking relief soon after commissioners approved zoning for a parcel of land at the corner of Magnolia and Lake streets for a parking lot. But not everyone is on board with the plan. Tyler resident April Lindskog, who lives on Elizabeth Street, told commissioners she was opposed to a parking lot fronting her home and hoped for the property to remain in its current wooded state, with a stream running through it.

But Rea Boudreaux, vice president of the C.T. Brannon Corporation, which will handle the parking lot construction, said plans for the new lot do not call for it to touch the creek now on the property.

"Residents on Elizabeth Street may not see the parking lot at all from their homes, and access to the lot will be from Magnolia Street," Boudreaux said to commissioners.
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