City of Austin officials called a Wednesday, Sept. 3, meeting with representatives from fraternities, sororities and co-ops throughout West Campus to announce a new plan to crack down on West Campus event ordinance violations, in response to recent incidents and concerns raised by older Austin residents.
The effort will consist of a new plan for event registration that requires new one-stop permit applications to be submitted at least 21 days in advance, with an attached site plan detailing the makeup of the property and party structures, according to announcements made by representatives from the Austin Fire Department and Austin Police Department at the meeting. Officials also said that the effort will include increased enforcement and less leniency on violations.
Captain Stacey Cox of the Austin Fire Department Fire Marshal’s Office said the new process is being implemented in response to issues the department has seen recently. “We’ve had several incidents occur in the past, and several agencies haven’t been well informed,” Cox said. “Essentially, the message we’re trying to get across is this is turning into an entertainment district rather than what it should be.”
Lt. Brad Price of the Austin Fire Department said the push for enforcement was spurred by an increasing number of complaints made by older residents in the West Campus area who demanded that the city uphold the ordinances it was previously overlooking. “People researched city codes and found that these things aren’t permissible and demanded the city do their job,” Price said.
The meeting was held at the Kappa Alpha house, located near West 25th Street and Leon Street, and lasted roughly two hours. The West Campus area of Austin is home to most of the university’s fraternity and sorority life, along with many non-Greek students. Despite its overwhelming student population, West Campus remains a residential area by law and city ordinances don’t differ much for West Campus in comparison to more family-centric areas of Austin.
Austin Police Department Officer Ray Lopez said live outdoor music, including DJs, will no longer be allowed without a proper permit. He said most houses are not zoned to get permits for live outdoor music at all. “What’s been allowed previously is going to come to an end,” Lopez said. “Ninety-nine percent of you will not be able to get the permit you need.”
With the addition of the site plan requirement, households who wish to plan an event must submit a detailed, clear map of their residence at the time of application submission. The map should include all planned bars, structures (including fraternity builds), permanent or temporary fencing, marked exits and a full floor plan. The application can be accessed through the City of Austin’s CityStage website, and the 21-day notice is effective beginning Oct. 1. Until then, event applications must be submitted to the department at least seven days in advance.
A separate application must be submitted for each event, and any omissions within the application as well as any objection to plans by a singular department could result in a denial of the application. Cox said the stricter application process is necessary to allow time for each agency to be notified of any precautions prior to each event.
The Austin Center for Events, or ACE, is comprised of coordinating departments across the city including the Austin Fire Department, Austin Resource Recovery, Austin/Travis County Emergency Medical Services, Capital Metro, the Health Department, Parks & Recreation and the Transportation Department. The division handles permit approvals on a first-come, first-serve basis, and will not consider a permit that is either incomplete or unpaid for.
According to print materials distributed at the meeting, “After receiving a citation, the organization will not be eligible for another TCOU permit for 30 days. If another unpermitted event occurs during this 30 day period, the period of ineligibility will be increased up to 6 months.”
The changes call the future of UT’s Round Up into question. Price said he personally expects the event to be as big as it was last year, but no official word on the matter has been released by APD. As for negative feelings voiced by a few of the attendees, Price said he hopes no one feels targeted. “This is not something we just made up for you [Greek students]; we make all the bars do this,” Price said. “It’s been this way a long time. There just hasn’t been a good infrastructure or process.”
Frances Hargrove, special events manager for the Austin Transportation Department’s Office of Special Events, urged the students in attendance at the meeting to take action in the upcoming city council elections in November. “These rules are set in place by the governing city council,” Hargrove said. “We hear the voices of the older residents. You need to make your voices heard if you want the rules changed.”
This November marks the first Austin City Council election in which candidates will not be elected by citywide vote. Instead, the city has been split into 10 districts, and one candidate will be selected from each. District 9 contains the West part of campus, along with the areas to the North, West and South of it, downtown and parts of the South Austin and East Riverside areas.