UT Dallas has always been a university, i.e. an institution of higher learning where one can take classes and learn things and get an accredited degree. But it's never really been a college, in the sense of a vibrant campus-centered community. When I graduated five years ago, the ghetto of crappy student apartments along Waterview was the only thing anchoring students to campus. Most of the rest escaped to the sea of parking lots immediately after class.
Slowly but surely, that's changing. There are actual dorms now and a dining hall (http://www.utdallas.edu/residencehall/) that cater to the skyrocketing undergrad population (it's tripled over the past two decades). Pretty soon, UTD could add another puzzle piece with a mixed-use development just north of campus.
See also: The Dorm From Hell
The Dallas Morning News, which reported yesterday that the Richardson City Council approved zoning plans for the 13.3-acre parcel, describes it thusly:
Northside at UTD, also referred to as Comet Town, will be a mixed-use neighborhood featuring apartments, townhomes, shops and restaurants.
The concept plan for the project reviewed on Monday shows 284 apartment units, 16 town homes and 26,780 square feet of retail space. A pedestrian mall will connect the neighborhood to the future DART Cotton Belt Station. More phases are planned for the project.
The property is on the north side of Synergy Park Boulevard, between Rutford Avenue and Floyd Road. Calvin Jamison, the university's vice president of administration, said the school owns the land and will lease it to Wynne Jackson and Balfour Beatty Campus Solutions to develop and operate.
Comet Town housing will be open to the public but mostly serve faculty and graduate students, Jamison said. Rental rates are expected to start at about $1,600 for a 1,000-square-foot apartment.
Whether the development is the boon that it could be depends on execution and, it's probably safe to say, developers abandoning the godawful "Comet Town" moniker. Preliminary schematics presented to the Richardson council show developers considering several options for the facade, all of them in the Mixed-Use Bland style of architecture, and there is a bunch of parking.
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There's no doubt, though, that the apartments will be miles better than the ones along Waterview and that the lure of college kids with plenty of disposable time and income will inspire an interesting mix of restaurant and retail. All of this will serve the ultimate goal of encouraging more people to hang around on campus.
This is all in keeping with UTD North Campus master plan, which envisions a link to DFW Airport via the currently stalled Cotton Belt passenger rail line as well as a hotel, event center, and business incubator.
For this first step, Richardson officials also had the foresight to grant a variance allowing alcohol to be served as part of the development. They did, however, exclude bars from the list of approved uses, meaning UTD is missing out on the one inarguable prerequisite for becoming a real college: a dive bar where freshmen can get trashed with a fake ID and dollar pitchers.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.