A once-contentious issue about the number of unrelated people who can live in a one-family College Station home has been revived by the city’s Planning & Zoning Commission. The commission heard a presentation Thursday evening about a possible ordinance that, if approved by the city council, would allow neighborhoods to restrict occupancy of a home to no more than two unrelated people.
College Station staff planner Jade Broadnax said in a Friday phone interview that the city council instructed the planning department to do research on a more restrictive ordinance, and she presented that research to the commission Thursday evening. The current ordinance in College Station allows for no more than four unrelated people in “a single housekeeping unit” citywide.
The possible ordinance, still in the research stage, is drawing support from some who want fewer homes full of college students in some neighborhoods.
Opposition to the proposal is coming from a few corners, including from some in real estate who say the change fiscally would harm landlords and tenants alike, and from those who believe such an ordinance would target those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds — and also potentially stigmatize college students.
If the College Station City Council approves such an ordinance, Broadnax said, it would not be codified immediately throughout the city, but would become an option for single-family overlay districts, as opposed to standard zoning districts. Property owners from neighborhoods would vote whether to restrict unrelated occupancy further.
“By no means would it be immediate,” she said during Thursday’s meeting.
This week, the council will hear the same presentation during a Thursday workshop session.
In the current ordinance, according to Broadnax, a family is defined as being related by blood, adoption, guardianship, marriage or being part of a group home for disabled persons.
During the meeting, Broadnax and commission chair Dennis Christiansen stressed that it was not an action item but rather a public hearing and time for discussion and research.
On Friday, Broadnax said that such ordinances have proven “extremely difficult to enforce.” During the Thursday meeting, Broadnax told the commission that in conversations with College Station Municipal Judge Ed Spillane and code enforcement personnel in Bryan and San Marcos, hundreds of investigations into complaints of exceeding occupancy have led to only a handful of convictions — six in College Station since 2017.
“Simply stated, prosecuting a violation of an occupancy ordinance beyond a reasonable doubt has proven to require an extensive amount of staff time for very nominal results,” Broadnax told the commission.
The most commonly used method of enforcement, Broadnax said, is a sustained monitoring of license plates outside a residence; she said Friday that convictions often rely on admission of guilt.
Space for public input would be part of the process if the council decides to move forward and look at the potential ordinance further. The topic has come up in the past, Broadnax said.
Fred Dupriest of the College Station Association of Neighborhoods delivered a presentation in support of a two-unrelated ordinance. In his presentation, he argued that university students living in single-resident homes across the city has become widespread due to growth, and that “students displaced families out of necessity.”
“There’s a sense across the city that we’ve gone wrong with the ‘four unrelated’ in residential single-family neighborhoods, and there’s very strong support for doing something about it,” Dupriest said in Thursday’s meeting. “College Station has got to draw a line somewhere here on the displacement of families and children out of neighborhoods — and one way to do that is to let the neighborhoods themselves decide.”
P & Z Commission members Elizabeth Cunha and Jeremy Osborne articulated their opposition to the proposal after Broadnax’s presentation.
“Part of home ownership should at least be getting to control who sleeps in my house without having to account to you as to how they’re related to one another,” Cunha said Thursday. “This is not just an anti-student initiative. I think it will impact our low-socioeconomic members most severely. I think they are the ones who will be targeted consistently.”
Osborne said he had heard from about three dozen people in advance of Thursday’s meeting, and that all of them were opposed to the proposal.
“Students live here, and they often live together,” Osborne said. “To try to reengineer this to deny or revise the history of these places is to deny the very character of the community in which we live. I think imposing this type of restriction would upend the entire community.”
Several commission members said they felt that further discussion should happen in person because the topic was drawing widespread attention and passion.
Planning and Zoning Commission member Joe Guerra Jr. noted in his comments that in some cases, rental properties had contributed to gentrification and made property tax payments more difficult for some families.
“We have different points of view,” Guerra said. “I do think that the grandfathering needs to be looked at, and I think we should look into expanding what we consider a family.”
Christiansen, the commission’s chair, noted that because the ordinance would allow, and not require, neighborhoods to adopt such an ordinance with a vote, only some parts of College Station would be impacted.
“Any existing subdivision that has significant rental property in it is very unlikely to pass this — the votes are never going to be there,” he said, adding that some neighborhoods in College Station that have fewer rental properties may decide otherwise.