By Jonathan Smith, Managing Editor
The Abilene City Council will meet Oct. 23 to discuss the possibility of raising the number of unrelated people living in one house from three to four
Jeff Armstrong, development services manager for the Community Development Department, which polices zoning ordinances, said the current occupancy limit is enforced, although catching violators is difficult.
Although a decision about the ordinance has yet to be made, Armstrong said he believes that possibility has sparked at least some residents in one neighborhood to bring their complaints public.
A letter was distributed last month to residents of Madison Avenue, Garfield Avenue and Campus Court from an anonymous source citing complaints about vehicles lining the streets, yard maintenance and the occupancy limit for rented housing.
“I was kind of surprised that the neighborhood would send something,” said Ashley Knight, elementary education major from Abilene and resident of Madison Avenue. “It didn’t have any return address, or it wasn’t signed by anybody. They were kind of going behind our backs about it I guess.”
Armstrong said complaints from residents of that neighborhood are not uncommon.
“We pretty much routinely get complaints from that area,” Armstrong said.
He said that when complaints about the ordinance are made, the CDD sends workers to assess the situation and determine if a household is in violation. Tracking down all occupants and finding out whose names are on a residence’s lease can sometimes prove difficult, he said.
If a household is found to be in violation of the ordinance, a fine of up to $2,000 can be assessed every day the house remains in violation, although Armstrong said the department rarely finds it necessary to fine the owners daily.
Gary Stone, a resident of Madison Avenue for about 13 years, said his student neighbors have caused him few problems lately, even when he said he counted at least 30 cars lining the street one night.
“We’re glad to have them around,” Stone said. “It’s just a little inconvenient at night sometimes it gets a little noisy, but it’s nothing to really get upset about.”
Knight said that although she doesn’t think they cause a problem for the neighborhood, she understands the concerns of some residents.
“But I also respect that they want to keep the neighborhood safe and family-oriented,” Knight said.
Originally, the city had set an unrelated-persons housing limit of five, but in an often acrimonious 1984 session, lowered that limit to three.
Among those supporting tighter housing regulations , according to an Optimist report at the time, were Dr. Carol Williams, dean of the graduate program, then a university math professor.
Williams had argued the university would help out students with housing if they needed it.
Former English professor Mima Williams cited “wreckless driving, drinking, partying and noise,” the Optimist reported, while Students’ Association officers argued against the limits.
After two public hearings and two postponements, the council passed the resolution March 20, 1984.
The Abilene planning and zoning commission this year has recommended the limit be increased by one.
Stone said there was one household recently where college students were repairing used cars and leaving parts out in the front yard.
“Some of the people that I knew that were really complaining was about how the property looked,” Stone said. “I think that will change now because that’s not there anymore.”
Stone said the residents of at least one house that had received complaints have since left.
“I don’t think you’re going to get any more problems this year over here. I don’t really see any reason why anyone would complain.”
Knight said she hasn’t heard of any other complaints made as a result of the letter and that residents should not be automatically wary just because they have student neighbors.
“I don’t think that they should assume that because there are college students here that it’s going to make the neighborhood go down,” Knight said. “I don’t think they should make a stereotype that everyone is going to do that.”
-Paul A. Anthony contributed to this report.