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Environmental Board approves variance

Thursday, June 22, 2000 by

For affordable development in DWPZ

Southwest Trails headed to City Council next week

The city's Environmental Board Wednesday unanimously recommended a variance to city land use rules to allow construction of an affordable housing development in the Drinking Water Protection Zone (DWPZ). Southwest Trails, which is being sponsored by the Central Texas Mutual Housing Association (CTMHA), would be the first such development west of MoPac, according to Craig Alter, development director for CTMHA. Board Secretary Tim Jones—who chaired the meeting in the absence of Chair Buzz Avery–and members Joyce Conner, Lee Leffingwell and Ramon Alvarez included language in their approval to prevent any development that is not in the affordable housing category from garnering such a variance. They also put a number of additional conditions on their approval. According to a report by Patrick Murphy, manager of environmental review and inspection for the Watershed Protection Department, “The site is in the Contributing portion of the Barton Springs Zone (BSZ) and subject to the SOS Ordinance. The impervious cover that is allowed and proposed on this site, including the proposed construction on the Water Quality Transition Zone (WQTZ) is 25 percent of the (net site area) or 5.23 acres.” City ordinance requires a variance for construction in the WQTZ. The nearly 29-acre site, at the intersection of Fletcher Lane and Old Bee Caves Road, will house about 350 to 400 people in 160 apartments, Alter said. The board struggled with wording the variance, which allows impervious cover in a portion of the Water Quality Transition Zone—the WQTZ being less sensitive than other parts of the BSZ. Alter and engineer John Noell of Urban Design Group explained to the board that the site was designed to avoid crossing a creek. The developer will build on about 21 acres, leaving a little more than eight acres undisturbed. Alter told In Fact Daily that the original plan had included a road across the creek and would have disturbed the entire property. Creek crossings also require variances from the Land Development Code and board members agreed that the current plan is superior to any that would cross the creek. As Murphy put it, “It just made more sense to only work on one side of the creek. This is a fairly narrow precedent,” as set forth by the Environmental Board. The property is 13 miles from downtown. Asked why it was necessary to put the project so far from central city, Noell said, “Craig (Alter) would do closer-in projects all day every day and never go this far out if he could make the numbers work… It’s just so difficult to produce anything that anybody can afford if they’re not a computer engineer working at one of these high tech companies who did an IPO deal and is now a jillionnaire.” Alter told In Fact Daily, “There are 10,000 jobs within two miles of the site,” which means that many residents of Southwest Trails can expect a very short commute. He said children from the development would attend Oak Hill Elementary, Small Jr. High and Austin High School. Alter said the case will go before the Planning Commission next Tuesday and to the City Council on June 29. At that time, CTMHA will be seeking $500,000 from the city’s Housing Trust Fund and another $500,000 from the federal Home Improvement Program. In addition, the nonprofit group will ask the city for authorization to issue $6.5 million in bonds. The total price tag on the project, he said, is $13.5 million. Alter praised Paul Hilgers and Stuart Hersh of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Housing and Community Development, who assisted in developing the proposal. Created in 1986 in Austin, CTMHA has 1,655 units of rental housing in 10 developments in Austin, Arlington and Carrolton. Alter said, “The group’s properties are nearly always full, with most families staying with us for three to four years. In recent years, 20 percent of the families that moved from our Austin properties did so to buy a house.”.

Goodman comments on Planning Commission's

Rejection of El Concilio's postponement request

Postponement rules apply only to zoning cases

Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman called to comment on Wednesday’s story on the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Plan, which included a statement that first requests for postponement of Planning Commission cases are generally granted. El Concilio political activists had requested a postponement, which the Commission refused to grant. Goodman said, “There is no policy on first request for postponement on a neighborhood plan. There's a policy on zoning—either at the request of the neighborhood or the developer, neither of which is really applicable in this case. So, it would not normally be done, unless the neighborhood itself asked for more time to finish up its plan. But certainly not some outside group (El Concilio), who refused to be part of the neighborhood planning. Most people would not have even requested that someone else's neighborhood request be put on hold.” Goodman served on the Planning Commission for several years before joining the City Council..

Hyde Park Baptist Church v. neighbors (again)…The Planning Commission postponed until July 11 a request from the church to vacate an alley in Hyde Park in order to make room for a new parking garage. Neighbors said they had not received notice of Tuesday’s hearing and the item was postponed… Party time at last… Council Member Raul Alvarez says all are welcome to celebrate his victory Friday from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Mexican-American Cultural Center, 600 River St. (near IH-35 and Holly). Expect music and dancing. For more information, call 474-5222, or, e-mail the Alvarez Campaign at campaign@raulalvarez.org.

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