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North Lamar zoning presents quandary for Planning Commission

Wednesday, January 12, 2000 by

Single-family vs. apartment argument dominates discussion

The Planning Commission last night could not reach an agreement on the request of the Grace Christian Center of Austin to change the zoning on about 17 acres land at 12007 North Lamar from single-family (SF-2) to apartments (MF-1). The commission on a 3-4 vote rejected the staff recommendation to simply deny the request and instead postponed the vote for two weeks. With Commissioner Robin Cravey and Chair Art Navarro missing, the remaining seven could not muster five votes for any compromise. Commissioners Ben Heimsath, Jean Mather and Jim Robertson voted for the staff proposal to recommend that City Council deny the requested change. Vice Chair Betty Baker and Commissioners Gwen Webb, Susana Almanza and Ray Vrudhula voted against the staff recommendation. However, Baker could not muster the necessary five votes to recommend rezoning the property MF-6 for condominiums.

Attorney Jeff Howard of Minter Joseph & Thornhill, representing the church, said the multifamily designation is appropriate for the area, which is part of the Desired Development Zone. He said the apartment complex could act as a buffer between the less desirable properties, such as auto salvage yards, which dominate that part of the city, and the single-family housing to the South. Howard also said his clients were willing to leave another tract, currently zoned SF-2, undeveloped. Baker said the tract was not a part of the case and so could not be considered.

Janet Klotz, longtime North Austin resident, said Walnut Creek is virtually lined with either commercial or multifamily properties. Except for the Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park and single-family homes built before the 1980s real estate boom, the area is almost all apartments and commercial or office uses, she said. The Walnut Creek Neighborhood is "sandwiched between apartments and apartments," she said. Klotz said a North Lamar study was done in 1985-86, which resulted in the single-family zoning now on the property. "If everything had been developed as it was being proposed in the area, we would've been complete gridlock in everything," she said. However, the bust that followed the boom prevented a lot of that development from occurring then, she said. Not only are there a lot of apartments already in the area, but there are "thousands more, not built, but zoned just east of I-35," from this neighborhood, Klotz said. She said the area has the third highest number of apartments in the city.

Joe Guergen, who described himself as a Realtor who lives in the area, said all the bad uses which were described in the North Lamar study, such as used tire and battery stores, are still there. "As a builder, to put a new single-family subdivision in this area would be a disaster," he said. "Multifamily is very viable."

Mary Hausman, a director of the Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association, said her neighborhood has battled massage parlors, auto salvage yards and other undesirable businesses along Lamar. For them, she said, annexation has been a valuable tool, and the neighborhood is working toward full-purpose annexation in 2000. Hausman said her association had agreed to SF-6, or condominium zoning, but the church rejected their offer. She said they did not ask for a requirement that the condos be owner-occupied, although that would be their preference.

Howard said the church did not agree to SF-6 because of the necessity for a "condo regime," which makes financing more difficult. He reminded the commission that most Austinites started out as renters and someday their children would be renters. Baker and Webb took up the theme, saying that renters and homeowners are not different from each other. "Concerns about living in a good neighborhood are universal," Webb said. She termed generalizations about renters as caring less about their surroundings "unfortunate and inappropriate."

Mather said neighborhood organizations cannot notify people who live in apartments. "It's a mistake to put all the apartments in one part of the city," she said. Robertson said, "This is a neighborhood that is holding down the fort for this part of Austin. Single-family is the way it should stay."

Following the inconclusive vote, Howard said it was "too early to say" whether his client would agree to SF-6 zoning, which would allow the commission to bless an agreement between the property-owner and neighborhood. The next vote on the matter is scheduled for Jan. 25.

Braker Lane zoning approved

On another zoning case for property not far away from the North Lamar case, a property owner at 403 E. Braker Lane won a Planning Commission recommendation for City Council approval of a zoning change from LO (limited office) to GR-CO (community commercial with a conditional overlay).

Bob Holiday, an owner of the 0.58-acre property, said his father purchased the land, and has lost a lot of money because no one wants to purchase it for office uses. Bill Faust, representing the owner, said, "the die is cast" for this part of the city, and it should not remain LO. Faust agreed that the property would not be used for any automotive-related purposes. The Commission also approved a conditional overlay prohibiting a number of other uses including funeral services, exterminating services, pawn shops and fast food restaurants.

Although Janet Klotz and Mary Hausman also argued against approval of the zoning change, the commission disagreed. The change will go to council with a unanimous recommendation of the seven commissioners present Tuesday night.

San Jose Motel gets okay for bar as well as a facelift

South Congress motel to reopen in February

The San Jose Motel at 1316 S. Congress won Planning Commission approval last night for a cocktail lounge serving beer and wine for motel patrons only. Elizabeth Lambert, general manager for the motel, told commissioners the bar would have no separate sign, no entrance from the street and no late-night hours. "We're not trying to have a busy bar," she said. "This is only for motel guests."

Long a hangout for prostitutes, the San Jose has undergone a complete renovation, according to Laura Toups Berland of Urban Design Group, which planned the changes. Berland said motel owners have entered into a restrictive covenant with the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association agreeing that the property shall continue as a bungalow-style motel. No one appeared on behalf of the neighborhood.

Betty Baker, the commission's vice chair, asked questions about the bar's proximity to schools and churches. The School for the Deaf is one block away and the nearest church is about 400 feet from the lodging, Lambert said. Commissioner Ben Heimsath suggested that there would be no need for the Conditional Use Permit if the motel would add food sales. Lambert said the motel lacks a kitchen and the 800 square feet planned for the bar area would not accommodate both.

Commissioners approved the permit on a vote of 5-2, with Baker and Heimsath voting no. Commission Chair Art Navarro and Commissioner Robin Cravey were absent.

Good-bye council chamber…Former mayors, council members, city managers and others who have spent long hours in the current city council chamber at 307 W. 2nd St. are being invited to celebrate the end of an era Thursday, the last day a council will meet in the building. David Matusik of the city's Public Information Office said the public is also welcome at the reception, which begins at 1:30 p.m. The chamber has been used as the meeting place for council meetings, as well as numerous board and commission meetings and press conferences, since 1974. There will be no council meeting on Jan. 20. The Jan. 27 meeting will be held at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, while the meetings of Feb. 3 and Feb. 10 are scheduled for the headquarters of the Lower Colorado River Authority… Planning Commission moving…The quarters at City Hall, Room 304, were too small for the Planning Commission meetings and the meetings are being moved to the Waller Creek Center at 625 E. 10th St. Last night, 25 people were standing during the meeting in the cramped quarters… Park confab…The third public meeting on the 300-acre Colorado River Park will be held Tuesday, Jan. 18, in the Colorado Room of Palmer Auditorium from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. The purpose is to present the final design and plan for the park to the public for review and input. The plan was prepared by Hargreaves Associates, contracted through the Austin Parks Foundation. for more information, call Tim Fulton at 477-1566… City holiday Monday…City administrative services and most other city services including the libraries will be closed Monday, Jan. 17, in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday. In Fact Daily is not published on city holidays… New record…The new Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is off to a fast start, as passenger traffic for 1999 was up 10 percent from the previous year. Indeed 6.7 million passengers enplaned and deplaned at the airport (including five months of operations at Robert Mueller Municipal Airport before the new facility opened in May).

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