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City Council approves dense MF-6

Tuesday, August 8, 2000 by

University area condo developer makes neighbors happy

The City Council approved a historic zoning case on first reading Thursday, although it had nothing to do with an old or historical property. Rather, it was the first time the city had ever zoned a property MF-6 (Multi- Family 6), the densest zoning allowed for residential uses.

Enfield Homes and its president, Glen Screws, are planning a 24-unit condominium for the property, a former gas station at 1023 W. 24th St.

The developer initially wanted to change the zoning from LO (Limited Office) to MF-6 to maximize his profit potential with 36 living spaces. But he ran into trouble in the form of a valid petition presented to the Planning Commission by the Texas Federation of Women's Clubs (TFWC). The club's Historical Foundation objected to a dense condo project across the street from its historic headquarters building at 2312 San Gabriel, fearing the worst about its potential appearance.

Mike McHone, a local real estate agent and consultant for developers, presented the project to the Planning Commission as one that would fulfill Smart Growth objectives. After all, the condos would provide housing in the central city and could serve students, professors or young tech workers. The Planning Commission, however, granted a postponement on April 18, then recommended MF-4 zoning on May 9. The MF-4 designation would only allow 15 units.

McHone has strong ties to West Campus and the University Area Partners, the business and residential association that speaks for the area. He began negotiating with the group and the TFWC with the idea that a building with only 15 units in that location would turn out "crappy," because the project would not generate enough income to be profitable. Instead, McHone negotiated a conditional overlay to the zoning that specified a brick building, metal roof, enclosed parking, pedestrian amenities, landscaping and other features that the club and neighbors found attractive.

In the end, the club withdrew its petition, supported the project and noted that it was "gratifying to us that (the) design is compatible with TFWC's beautiful and historic headquarters building," according to a letter from Joy Davis, the club's historical foundation chair.

"It makes good sense to build this in the university neighborhood," McHone said Monday. McHone also noted that the overlay specifies setbacks as defined under MF-4. With the exception of density, he said, the MF-6 project will be no different from an MF-4. The designation does allow 80 percent impervious cover–as opposed to 70 percent under MF-4–but the site is already 100 percent impervious cover, McHone said.

With the neighborhood and TFWC supporting the MF-6, the City Council passed it on consent, although it will requiretwo more readings before becoming law. Council Members Will Wynn and Beverly Griffith praised the development at the meeting. "I'd like to congratulate the landowners and especially the neighborhood…It’s now good for everybody. This is an exemplary project," Griffith said.

Wynn said Monday that he is a "strong supporter of strategies that promote denser development" in the urban core. "These developments help us cut back on traffic and congestion, promote walking and bicycling, improve the quality of our environment, and bring us closer together as a community," he said. "As an example, this MF-6 zoning–which will be the first such zoning ever in Austin once it has final Council approval–will allow 50 percent more apartment units to be built within this development, which is just a few blocks west of the UT campus."

Not everyone was enthusiastic about the zoning first. Such deals could lead to "an uncanny problem," said Betty Baker, Planning Commission vice chair. "When the developer or builder goes the extra mile like this, you're looking at contract zoning. We have an aversion to contract zoning," she said. Baker described "contract zoning" as using specific terms–of a restrictive covenant, for example–that aren't legally conditions of zoning.

"It's something that's not appropriate for everyone," she said. "The city can't enforce a restrictive covenant."

To facilitate meetings on Hays water line

Moorhouse & Associates to work with stakeholders

The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) has selected Moorhouse & Associates of Corpus Christi to facilitate meetings between Hays County stakeholders, the LCRA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other parties interested in the future of the Highway 290 water line the agency plans to construct.

Maggie Moorhouse, company president, told In Fact Daily, “We have served as the statewide public outreach contractor for TNRCC (Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission) on non-point source pollution issues and we’ve worked for the International Boundary and Water Commission on water issues.” In addition, she said her company has worked with the Senate Bill 1 regional water planning group for the 21-county San Antonio area. “This is the first time we’ll be working in northern Hays County and Austin,” she said.

Moorhouse said her job will be “to try to get some common ground” among the stakeholders. One of the criteria for selection as facilitator “was that we didn’t have any ties or prior work with anybody involved–so we could be a neutral party.” Part of the job, Moorhouse said, will be to take information from the LCRA and its technical contractor, Bio West, “and bring it out to the public and sit down with them and talk to them about it.”

“We’ll probably be doing some focus groups on certain issues and probably one of them will be this growth issue . . . We’ll be looking to the public on what they are looking for about that issue.” Moorhouse said she is anxious to get started. She plans to “have a general get together at the end of August or the beginning of September.”

The budget for the contract is not yet public information, Moorhouse said, because the contract has not been signed. She expects the process will take about 14 months.

Radio boycott…The ALGPC (Austin Lesbian/Gay Political Caucus) boycott has evidently taken its toll on some of Dr. Laura’s KLBJ AM 590 advertisers. Allan Baker, co-chair of the organization, says “At this point, Bitter End, Texadelphia, Romano’s Macaroni Grill and Thundercloud Subs have pulled their ads. In addition, County Line on the Hill pulled their ads before the boycott began.” Baker said he is continuing conversations with other restaurants advertising on Dr. Laura’s radio show… Absentee voting ends…Today is the last day to vote absentee for Wimberley’s first City Council election. Election Day is Saturday. More than 420 people had voted as of last night. Bubba Demos meet…South Austin Democrats will meet at 5:30 p.m. today at Rosie’s Tamale House, South Congress at Oltorf, for election of officers. Guest speaker is scheduled to be Pat Cramer, speaking on Travis County voter registration.

© 2000 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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