City Council directs city staff to explore student housing options
By Seth Thomas Gulledge
The Daily Reflector
Thursday, February 1, 2018
How do other university towns handle student housing development? Greenville’s city staff has been asked to find out.
The Greenville City Council has directed staff to explore options related to student housing, several weeks after a Jan. 8 vote against directing staff to follow up on a study completed in December that showed the marked was saturated.
On Saturday, during the second day of the annual City Council planning session, At-Large Councilman Brian Meyerhoeffer initiated a discussion about the issue, noting it had not been addressed during the workshop, which aim to direct city staff about the council’s priorities and identify opportunities and challenges in the city’s future.
“We've been here two days, and I feel like the elephant in the room that hasn't been mentioned and we haven't talked about is student housing,” he said.
During the Jan. 8 council meeting, staff was presented a study by Kimley-Horn, a firm hired by the city to conduct an occupancy study of student and professional housing. The study showed the vacancy rates for student housing are above national averages and would increase as developments underway are completed. The study also showed a lack of market-rate housing for non-students.
Following the study, District 1 Councilwoman Kandie Smith made a motion for staff to take the study and recommend options to rectify these issues. The motion failed, with only District 4 Councilman Rick Smiley joining Smith to vote in favor of the motion.
On Saturday, Meyerhoeffer asked City Attorney Emanual McGirt to explain options the council would have if members determined overdevelopment was an issue. Meyerhoeffer said council was advised before the meeting in January that an official moratorium on the construction of student housing was not possible.
McGirt told council it might be possible to change the Land Use Intensity Plan to limit zoning for multi-use purposes. Additionally, he said the council could change the qualifications or specifications for special-use permits that allow for dormitory-style dwellings. Such dwellings are exempt from the rule against more than three unrelated person living together.
Mayor P.J. Connelly said it would be interesting to look at similar-sized cities, with large universities, to see how they handle their housing situation and dormitory-style use. He said the staff should look into how these cities work, and not spend too much time conducting a full-length study on the situation.
Smith said she was in support of the idea, mentioning that it is similar to the motion she made in early January.
“I would like to know — because that's what I tried to lay out — (what) we could possibly do,” she said. “That would be awesome to me, just to see what the options are; doesn't mean we'll select any.”
Smiley said he is specifically interested in whether city regulations or actions by staff or the council is preventing the construction of market-rate housing, since the study showed there was a lack of it
“I'm curious of the other side of the coin, what's stopping people from doing market-rate housing,” he asked. “We don't have all the data, but it seems to be people are pushing through to build student housing and not building market-rate housing.”
Smiley said that if the city is doing something to discourage market-rate housing, he would like to know it.
Connelly and Meyerhoeffer both speculated the reasoning had to with the higher profitability of student housing over market-rate housing for families and young professionals.
District 5 Councilman Will Litchfield said he had an acquaintance who worked with student housing all over the country and he would be willing to have conversations with him about how other municipalities handle their markets.
No one on the council spoke against staff looking into the situation, and members seemed to be in general agreement on the issue, though no official motion or vote was conducted.
At the end of the meeting, City Manager Ann Wall confirmed she took the discussion as direction from the council for city staff to look at the issue and possible options for the council.
Contact Seth Gulledge at Sgulledge@reflector.com and 329-9579. Follow him on Twitter @GulledgeSeth