After nearly three hours of debate, Richardson City Council voted to once again deny a proposal that would have brought an apartment complex to land north of The University of Texas at Dallas.

The project, known as Haven at Waterview, is unaffiliated with the university but is marketed toward students looking for a nearby housing option. Property owner Dr. Mehrdad Mazaheri requested a zoning change that would have paved the way for a 12-story, 195-unit building with 526 beds, according to city documents.

The Richardson City Plan Commission recommended denial of the project in a 6-1 vote, triggering the need for a supermajority vote by council.

In its denial, the commission cited the plan’s incompatibility with the future land use map, which designates the property as regional employment. Uses recommended under this designation include high-density, high-rise office buildings, retail centers or entertainment venues, interim Director of Development Services Sam Chavez said.

Mazaheri and his lawyer, Jeff Sandberg, said the university’s available housing stock is not enough to meet student demand. The project would have not only alleviated the housing shortage, but also cut down on the number of student-involved vehicle collisions by providing a shuttle to and from campus, Sandberg said.

“They are completely booked, on-campus and off-campus, but their enrollment keeps going up,” Sandberg said.

UT Dallas owns 20.8 acres of land south of Mazaheri’s property across Waterview Parkway and north of the future Silver Line rail; however, that land is not yet developed. The university has entitlements to construct up to an additional 1,902 units on that property.

Chavez said it takes 15-20 minutes to walk from Mazaheri’s property to campus.

According to city documents, there are 6,094 on-campus beds, which is 1,524 fewer than the university needs to accommodate its projected 2030 enrollment. Northside, a development just north of UT Dallas that provides campus-adjacent housing for students, has 2,446 beds, according to documents.

UT Dallas also has plans to redevelop some of the older housing stock on campus, city documents said. University officials were not immediately available for comment.
This is not the first time Mazaheri has brought a proposal for the property before council. Council voted to deny a similar request in December that would have brought a five-story apartment building to the site.

UT Dallas had previously been opposed to the project; however, it changed its stance to neutral following revisions to Mazaheri’s proposal, Sandberg said.

Certain issues voiced during the December meeting were reiterated this time around. Council Member Ken Hutchenrider said, in absence of assurances from a property manager, there was no way Sandberg or Mazaheri could guarantee that students could break their lease if they found themselves in a dangerous or uncomfortable roommate situation.

“If you had the scenario where there were two women in the apartment and a male wanted to rent in that space, you cannot represent to us tonight that the property manager would have an immediate clause in the lease to let the two women out of that lease so they could get out of that situation,” he said, noting that Fair Housing Act regulations would prevent Mazaheri from dictating who lived with whom.

Written correspondence to council included 36 messages in support and five in opposition. Sandberg also cited a petition with 400 names in support. He said nearby homeowners associations have not been opposed.

“One of the beauties of this project is there are not a lot of [single-family] residences nearby,” Sandberg said. “It’s not really going to interfere with them.”

Five members of the public spoke in support of the project. Resident Andrew Laska pointed to other council-approved projects in the vicinity that do not conform with the future land use map.

“I implore the council to toss aside prejudices and get to something we can do,” he said.

Roya Azar, a commercial lender and former Richardson resident, said the office market is oversaturated post-COVID-19.

“There is a lot of empty space available, and if you ask me as a lender today, our No. 1 concern is office space lending,” she said.

Mayor Paul Voelker and Mayor Pro Tem Janet DePuy agreed the best use for the property is still office space.

“Pandemics run their course; things will go back to normal sometime, and I’m hesitant ... to put this kind of property on this particular plot of land based on a shortage of housing right now assuming that office space will not come back,” DePuy said.

Council Members Joe Corcoran, Jennifer Justice and Arefin Shamsul said the project would likely alleviate the university’s housing shortage.

“This housing can be for anyone; that’s absolutely true. .. We can’t restrict it, [but] I think ... the type of person who will want to live in this development will be a student,” Justice said.

The council ultimately voted to deny Mazaheri’s proposal in a 4-3 vote with Justice, Corcoran and Shamsul opposed. Voelker said he hoped Mazaheri would continue to work with the city on a project for the land.