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University Plaza owners consider redeveloping private dorms

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 11:19 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014 11:56 p.m. CDT

DeKALB – Owners of University Plaza want to turn the private dormitory into apartments for students in hopes of attracting more residents.

The 1,100 rooms in the two towers that make up University Plaza, 900 Crane Drive in DeKalb, would be converted into 322 student apartments beginning this fall under a plan from its co-owners, Alabama-based Capstone Real Estate Investments. This transformation would reduce the number of students allowed to live there from 1,100 to 496 by the time it is complete about October 2015.

Cutting down the number of potential residents will better align with the 470 parking spaces available at the residence halls, a change city officials see as beneficial.

“What they’re doing for this development is a good thing for the city,” DeKalb Principal Planner Derek Hiland said. “Anytime you can increase the parking-to-student ratio, it will reduce its neighborhood impact.”

University Plaza was built in 1965 with the intent to house between two to four students in tight quarters, each with a twin bed. While the eight-story buildings are structurally sound, they have become dated in the past 50 years, the property owners wrote in their request to the city. The lack of modern conveniences and the rooming house design makes them less appealing to potential residents, as the number of residents shows.

In the past five years, the number of students living at University Plaza has dropped from 546 in 2009 to 481 this year, according to data from the owners.

Part of the problem owners see with the rooms is their lack of kitchens. Because the rooms do not have a kitchen, residents have to buy a meal plan from the on-site cafeteria.

Creating apartments with kitchens will make the dining hall and cafeteria unnecessary. So, the owners will also turn the dining room and cafeteria into an area housing amenities including a gym, conference room and tanning room.

The Planning and Zoning Commission last week forwarded a recommendation to DeKalb City Council members suggesting they approve the renovation plans. Aldermen will address the development during their meeting Monday.

As part of a development agreement drafted by city staff, the buildings will need to be maintained as student housing, City Attorney Dean Frieders said. The agreement also addresses concerns over fire safety and security, and ensures the city could place a resident officer in an apartment.

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