Plans for a new student housing development in Stillwater are headed to the City Council, and some residents are unhappy about it.
Stillwater’s Planning Commission gave developer Aspen Heights the green light Tuesday to proceed with a slightly altered plan for a new student housing development. That plan now goes to the City Council for approval.
Aspen Heights is a company based in Austin, Texas, that has Colorado-style student housing developments in several college towns in Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia. The development would be an all-student gated community that features cottage-style homes located at the northeast corner of McElroy and Jardot roads.
Plans for the development show 143 structures separated into 242 dwelling units of two- and three-bedroom duplexes and four-bedroom houses — for a total of 684 bedrooms on 25.35 acres. Developers plan to provide 858 parking spaces, which is more than the 572 required by code. If the City Council approves the development, developers plan to have the complex completed and open by fall 2013.
Larry Brown of C-Star Real Estate said developers looked at several locations around the city, and this location had the best combination of infrastructure and accessibility to Oklahoma State University and nearby commercial attractions.
Charlie Vatterott, Aspen Heights executive vice president, said that students enjoy living in houses, and this development offers that.
The development will have trees and a masonry wall to screen portions of it from abutting single-family homes. Developers also plan to hire private security to handle noise complaints and other incidents on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Because of the likely increase in traffic, developers contracted a traffic impact study. The study went through multiple versions because there are no criteria for student housing under commonly used traffic methodology. Jon Eshelman was the engineer hired for the study. He said that the study tried to predict a worst-case scenario.
Eshelman said the level of service rating on the Jardot-McElroy intersection would drop from a B grade to C by 2018 during peak hours. Developers will build up McElroy Road east of Jardot Road to city standards to help accommodate the increased traffic.
There will be entrances to the development off of both Jardot and McElroy roads, which will include turn lanes off those streets. Commissioner Mike Buchert added the requirement that he wanted to see a right-turn lane added for vehicles traveling south on Jardot Road who turn westbound on McElroy Road.
Traffic and safety were the main concerns of dozens of potential neighbors who showed up to voice their opposition to the project.
Jerry Davis lives on Linda Avenue, which is aligned with the Jardot Road exit from the development. Davis said when he purchased his home, he enjoyed the feeling of living in the country but knew the area would be developed eventually.
“I always knew it would be developed, but I never expected 684 students to be dropped in there in one fell swoop,” Davis said.
Davis was not the only one at the meeting who had concerns about living near students. William Bowen said his big concern was noise and privacy. Bowen, who works for the Stillwater Police Department, said he knew the number of noise and complaint calls a development like this could produce, and he didn’t want to live near it.
“I don’t feel we should have college students dumped on us just because we live in a college town,” Bowen said.
Jim Huston argued that while developers were building separate cottages, the development was essentially an apartment complex. He said that it is surrounded by single-family homes and would be out of place.
“It’s not just a sore thumb, it’s a mangled hand,” he said.
Kathy Huston said she thought the traffic study was conducted in the wrong place. Skyline Elementary and Stillwater Junior High are both in the neighborhood west of the proposed development. Huston said the traffic was already bad when parents were going through the neighborhood to get to the two schools, and he thought it would only get worse with students.
“Adding inexperienced drivers — college kids — could be a recipe for disaster,” she said.
A few at the meeting questioned why the traffic study showed no traffic increase on Linda Avenue even though it was aligned with one of the development’s exits. Kathy Huston said it was only a matter of time before residents of the development realized they could avoid lights on a drive to shopping and entertainment along Perkins Road.
Kelly Harris — who worked on the site plan — said that she and the developers thought students wouldn’t want to drive into a neighborhood that speakers said was already congested. She said that traffic patterns suggest they’ll take Jardot Road and other main arteries. Harris also said safety was a concern, which was why plans included road improvements and building new sidewalks.
“We do want to be good neighbors,” she said.
Harris also said there is a need for more student housing as most student housing options in Stillwater typically have more than a 97 percent rate of occupancy.
Planning commissioners told developers they appreciated their willingness to add and subtract to meet neighbor concerns, and they wanted to include a few other requirements to the plan before sending it on to the City Council.
Those requirements included hiring a landscape architect to work on screening issues, a right-turn lane for southbound traffic on Jardot Road turning right onto McElroy Road and swapping building locations inside the development so duplexes would be nearest to the external neighborhoods.
The plans were approved 4-0 and will next go to the City Council.