When does more student housing become too much?
That was the question raised by several Akron City Council members Monday.
Still, despite this concern, council voted 12-1 to move forward with another new $20 million student housing development planned for the corner of South Broadway and East Exchange Street downtown.
This makes four private student housing developments that have been built or are in the planning stages to cater to University of Akron students. And, Planning Director Marco Sommerville said Monday that other developers are interested in bringing more student housing to the city.
“We’ll see how it shakes out,” he said. “It’s clear we need to keep our ears to the ground and make sure we’re not getting too much.”
Councilman Mike Williams was the lone no vote on the legislation for the latest development, a four-story building planned for the south side of East Exchange, east of South Broadway and west of the CSX railroad tracks. He thought enough questions remained and urged council to take more time to get answers.
“We need to reflect on this and other projects coming down the road,” he said.
Other council members, however, said they think there is a demand for more student housing.
“There is housing needed,” said Councilman Ken Jones.
Council previously approved plans for three other student housing developments. One development, 22 Exchange, is already up and running, while another at Cedar and Main streets called 401 Lofts is scheduled to open in August. A third is planned closer to the UA campus, taking up a block on the south side of Exchange between Allyn and Sumner streets.
Connected parking deck
The newest development would feature a mix of one- to four-bedroom apartments, for a total 624 beds. It also would include a separate five-story, 312-space parking deck connected to the apartment building by a third-floor covered walkway. Rent would be between $600 and $700.
Exchange Housing LLC has an option to buy the 3.4-acre property from the Akron Beacon Journal, whose main building is located across from the parcel. The property currently is home to the Erie Warehouse, an aging Wheeling & Lake Erie Railroad facility the newspaper uses to store giant rolls of paper.
Linda Omobien was the first council member to question whether Akron can support so much student housing during a Planning Committee meeting Monday.
“We’ve heard from a number of developers who want to build apartment units,” she said. “My concern is if we will be overly saturated.”
Councilman Jeff Fusco, who chairs the Planning Committee, agreed that this is an issue the city needs to look at, especially considering that more developers have expressed an interest. He said the developments council has approved so far add up to about 2,000 beds.
Fusco said he and other council members have been around long enough to remember when the city was begging for safe housing for students. He said the developers who come in and invest millions don’t “go into it lightly.” At the same time, he agreed Akron needs to “step cautiously” when it comes to additional plans for student housing.
Aaron Pechota, vice president of the NRP Group in Garfield Heights, which created Exchange LLC for the Akron project, said his company’s research showed there is a demand for more student housing. He said the thinking is that a university can support housing for about 65 percent of its undergraduate population.
For the UA area, Pechota said that would equate to 12,000 to 13,000 beds. The university has about 4,000 beds available on campus and about 2,000 are planned in the private developments, which totals about 6,000 or 30 percent of UA’s student population.
“There is more than adequate demand for that building and quite a bit more,” he said.
Michael Weiss of Richland Communities, the Beachwood company that owns the 22 Exchange and 401 Lofts developments, spoke during council’s public comment period Monday, questioning whether the market can support more student housing. He said recent changes UA has made, such as increasing admission standards and requiring freshman and sophomores to live in dorms, have decreased the occupancy in existing developments. He said 22 Exchange didn’t hit 80 percent capacity last year.
“If this and the other projects go through, we will all be sitting at 30 percent full,” he said. “That doesn’t do anyone good.”
Fusco said council members must decide on these projects based on whether the land use makes sense. In the case of the latest student housing development, he thinks it does.
“We must look at land use,” he said. “We can’t look at competition. From a legal standpoint, we need to be cognizant.”
Pechota said the sale of the property is still pending. He said the hope is to have the development open by next fall.
In other business, council took no action on two pieces of legislation that would crack down on people who text while driving and on home owners who sell their houses without disclosing pending housing or zoning violations. Both proposals are still being discussed.