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Hyde Park Quarries, Northwest neighborhoods sent to mediation

Wednesday, April 12, 2000 by

Meeting room jammed with opposition to the request for a conditional-use permit

Neighbors of the Hyde Park Baptist Church's Quarries property turned out in force Tuesday night to tell the Planning Commission they oppose the church's request for a conditional-use permit to build a high school, day care center and recreation facility on about 58 acres of land zoned for single-family homes. The property at 4400 Mesa Woods Drive is currently being used as a park with ball fields, tennis courts and a pavilion. Some neighbors said they believed the church had promised not to change that use when the neighbors agreed to support certain variances to the property's 1985 site plan. Some 200 people crowded into the meeting room at Waller Creek Plaza, so many that the Fire Marshal was on hand to limit attendance, and 128 people signed up to speak.

After hearing from 40 speakers opposed to the project, the commission voted to send the church and its neighbors to alternative dispute resolution. Commissioner Betty Baker, who made the motion for mediation, was able to muster the five votes needed–but just barely. Joining Baker were Chair Art Navarro and Commissioners Jim Robertson, Ray Vrudhula and Gwen Webb. Commissioners Susana Almanza and Jean Mather voted no. Commissioner Robin Cravey, an attorney, recused himself before the hearing because he had previously given legal advice on the matter. Commissioner Ben Heimsath was absent.

Almanza got applause at the beginning of the hearing when she asked a staff member, "In looking at all the changes…in this case, how is this not a zoning case?"

Tammie Williamson of the Development Review and Inspection Department replied that all the proposed uses are allowed under current zoning, SF-2. The Land Development Code lays out certain conditions that applicants must meet, including a condition that the use may not adversely affect adjoining lots any more than single-family housing.

Bobbi Henley, president of the Mesa Park Neighborhood Association, and co-chair of the Five Neighborhoods United steering committee, told the commission, "Many organizations throughout Austin are just waiting for you to approve this development so they can begin similar developments in the fully developed neighborhoods they are in. Neighbors throughout Austin are worried, too, that they will be finding similar developments coming into their neighborhoods."

Henley said she and her neighbors never dreamed the church would want to put up such a "mega-development" because the church promised "that the property will always remain a park." Henley said Bob Liverman, who was on a church committee to plan such projects, initially told her that Hyde Park Baptist only wanted to build one building. One building became 11 and then six and now five. "We were told not to worry–they would probably never build all the buildings. They just wanted to get conditional-use permits for them, just in case they wanted to build them some time in the future. We do not want to be put in the same position as the Hyde Park neighborhood, and have to worry about Hyde Park Baptist Church continually wanting to expand their facility and crowding out our homes and residents," Henley said. Five Neighborhoods United includes Mesa Park, Milwood, Balcones Woods, Angus Valley and Champion's Forest.

Richard Suttle, attorney for the church, told commissioners the church has been working on the project for the past three years and expects a three-year buildout. However, Suttle said it could take longer than three years because the church depends on contributions to do its work. Suttle, of Armbrust Brown & Davis, argued that 43 acres of the 57-acre site would support 130 to 137 single-family lots.

David Weiss, who lives in the area, said some of the lots would be in the 100-year flood plain and the Quarries property also contains a landfill, which would prove difficult to develop. In addition, Weiss said, the property is home to a critical water quality feature. Weiss said the property would only support 74 single-family homes. He also accused the church of illegally removing trees.

Bob Allen, a church consultant, said the church would need 720 parking spaces for the five buildings it plans. Neighbors questioned why the church contemplates only 142 spaces for 600 high school students plus their teachers. A majority of the complaints heard by the commission related to increased traffic that the new buildings would send into the neighborhood.

Former City Council Member Larry Deuser said he moved to his home in 1971. When MoPac Expressway was being designed, he said, the neighborhood purposely asked not to be connected, to prevent cut-through traffic. Deuser was on the council from 1981 to 1983.

Suttle said the neighbors have not been willing to negotiate with the church, even though he has sent a number of letters to Henley to request meetings. Following the vote, Suttle said he welcomed the opportunity to try to reach an agreement with the neighborhoods.

Planning Commission grudgingly approves new Lantana subdivision

Agreement between city and developer to forestall litigation

The Planning Commission approved the controversial Lantana Subdivision last night with little discussion. Commissioner Robin Cravey, who objected to the approval last week, based on the developer's failure to meet requirements of the 1986 Comprehensive Watersheds Ordinance (CWO), renewed his objections.

The developer is Stratus Properties (formerly FM Properties). The proposed subdivision, at the intersection of Southwest Parkway and West William Cannon Drive, is located within the Barton Springs Contributing Zone, according to Pat Murphy, deputy environmental services manager of the Watershed Protection Department. Murphy said an agreement between the city and Stratus mandates that the company capture more runoff than required by the CWO. In addition, he said, Stratus has agreed to provide greater setbacks than required by the 1986 law. Murphy said there is an agreement between the city and Stratus which is awaiting signature.

Last week, City Attorney Andy Martin met in executive session with commissioners to explain the agreement. ( In Fact Daily April 5.) Martin told commissioners that Stratus filed the application for the subdivision approval along with a Chapter 245 application. Chapter 245, also known as House Bill 1704, allows developers to build under "grandfather" provisions. The legislation was enacted to prevent the city from changing development rules on projects that are in the approval process. Martin said the city and Stratus had reached an agreement resolving disputes over Chapter 245 and other regulations and recommended approval to avoid litigation. With several commissioners absent last week, the subdivision failed to win approval and was postponed until this week.

Voting to approve the subdivision were Commission Chair Art Navarro and Commissioners Betty Baker, Ray Vrudhula, Gwen Webb and Jim Robertson. Cravey and Commissioner Jean Mather voted "no." Commissioner Susana Almanza had not yet arrived at the meeting and Commissioner Ben Heimsath was absent.

Votes are where you find them…Place 5 City Council candidate Clare Barry rarely speaks to the Planning Commission, but took the opportunity to do so last night. Barry was one of the last of 40 speakers to tell the commission not to approve the conditional-use permit requested by Hyde Park Baptist Church for the Quarries property. At the same time, she was telling a crowded room full of voters she was on their side. Also supporting the neighbors were Austin Neighborhoods Council (ANC) President Will Bozeman and former ANC President Jeff Jack… More on new hotel…Plans for the new Convention Center Hotel will be presented to the Austin Downtown Commission tonight in a meeting that starts at 5:30 p.m. in Room 104 of the Waller Creek Center. As reported by In Fact Daily April 11, an increase in the floor-to-area ratio is being sought to allow four stories to be added to the structure… When in Roma…The City of Austin's consultant to review the 1985 Town Lake Corridor Study, Roma Design Group Inc., is scheduled to meet with the Town Lake Waterfront Overlay Advisory Board Thursday, April 13, 6-9 p.m. at the Waller Creek Plaza, 625 E. 10th St. For more info, call Michael Knox at 499-6418.

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