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Y. student village faces big hurdles
Panel discusses ways to make project practical, attractive

PROVO -- There's a lot of wishful thinking about what a 150-acre student housing village south of Brigham Young University should look like, but practicality will likely rule if the ambitious proposal is to be feasible.

Members of an ad hoc committee assigned to develop a concept for the student village met Thursday and agreed that incorporating design guidelines into a plan that is attractive to developers and students is a huge challenge."It is important to create an atmosphere that attracts developers," said committee member Don Gurney, a local property appraiser.

A final plan cannot include design standards that make constructing student housing in the area too expensive for developers and resulting rents too high for students.

"It has to be profitable enough for a person to take the risk," said planning consultant John Fregonese, hired by the city to steer the project along.

The city's purpose in the South Campus Area Master Plan, or SCAMP, is to create a concept plan that will encourage developers to build student housing in the SCAMP area rather than other parts of the city -- particularly south of the project area. City leaders are hoping to keep student housing north of 500 North.

Current zoning allows student housing units south of that street. However, city officials recently imposed a six-month moratorium in the area to allow the committee time to develop the concept plan for SCAMP.

"The financial incentive to rent to students is so high that right now you see student housing in areas where it should not be," said committee member Dave Gardner, a local planner.

Officials are hoping the final SCAMP proposal will result in a village that will incorporate new student housing with retail development. The theory is having a student housing hub near campus with the essential retail amenities will encourage students to walk more and drive less. Some believe if developed properly, the student village will be the place where college students will want to live. City leaders are envisioning a housing village that will accommodate about double the number of students currently living in the area.

"This has the potential for a great social scene," Fregonese said.

Student leaders from BYU said selling that idea to students right now might be difficult. Many are concerned the plan will eliminate parking in the area and increase rents. Students are also a little offended that one goal of the proposal is to somewhat isolate them in one part of town.

"There is substantial concern that this will be detrimental to the students," said BYU student leader Jonathan Day.

Parking and density issues seem to be the main challenges facing the committee in developing building guidelines. Members want the village to be visually attractive, but the task is to add enough units to house about 4,000 more students in the same area, which likely means taller buildings. Most of those students will also bring with them cars that need parking. However, requiring creative design standards, innovative parking models and increasing building heights add to construction costs.

Another major concern of members is that the purpose of the village will be defeated if it fails to entice BYU students out of areas farther away from campus and ends up being filled with Utah Valley State College students. BYU currently has a cap on enrollment, and any increase in student population will come from UVSC, which is projected to grow by more than 15,000 in the next 10 years.

Attracting BYU students living in other parts of the city to relocate to the new student housing area will help reduce traffic. If UVSC students fill the new housing, traffic will likely increase as they drive across town to attend classes in Orem.

Committee members, especially those from BYU, recognize they cannot keep UVSC students out of the area. Most believe that the project will only be successful if Orem and UVSC work together on similar projects there to meet UVSC's housing needs. Many also believe UVSC officials need to be involved in the SCAMP planning process.

"I don't know how we can come to a sound solution without that piece," Provo City Councilwoman Cindy Richards said.

City staff will meet with the committee in two weeks to begin ironing out SCAMP's design concepts. In early May, the committee, city staff and Fregonese will meet in a two-day workshop to produce a sketch plan that is based on the committee's guiding principles. A draft plan will be ready by late May and a preferred plan ready to take to the Planning Commission by late June. Because of the moratorium deadline, the City Council wants to approve a final plan by Aug. 1.