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Board of Adjustment chair says

Tuesday, March 13, 2001 by

Zoning out of step with Smart Growth

Southwestern Bell not ready for case

Members of the Board of Adjustment Monday evening approved several variances for a proposed townhome development at 25th and San Antonio, just a few blocks from the University of Texas campus. Those variances include changes to the minimum setback requirements and allowable density under Commercial Services-Mixed Use Conditional Overlay zoning. A representative of the development company said the 8-unit project, known as The Whitestones, would need some of the same variances granted to other, similar projects in the immediate neighborhood.

The adjacent lot contains multi-family housing, and both are just a few blocks from a multi-story complex called The Castillian. In agreeing with the applicant’s request, Board Chair Herman Thun noted that, “Our zoning ordinance is not keeping up with reality.” He cited the city’s “ Smart Growth” philosophy and drive to maintain density in certain areas as two reasons to grant the variance.

The Board also told consultant Ian Mitchell, representing Southwestern Bell, that the company in essence had failed to properly present its paperwork in requesting a variance for property at 8808 Tallwood. Mitchell told commissioners that SWB was requesting a variance of the setback requirements in order to install DSL equipment that would eventually serve about 14,000 customers.

Normally, Mitchell said, the request would not be necessary because the company prefers to distribute the equipment to several different locations. But Mitchell said the lot at Tallwood was the only one the company was able to purchase within the required proximity to existing lines. They are also facing an FCC-imposed deadline on the project. Commissioner Frank Fuentes was not impressed, saying “It’s certainly a hardship for Southwestern Bell”, but he didn’t see how it would meet the definition of “hardship” used by the board to justify a variance.

“Month after month, we make our citizens give us real hardships,” Fuentes said. “I’m having a problem with fairness. These findings of fact are different from what I’m used to.” After some urging from the board, Mitchell agreed to postpone Southwestern Bell’s request until April.

A clash between the owner of 610 and 612 Pressler and some members of the surrounding neighborhood was averted Monday night when consultant Jim Bennett asked for a postponement for his client, Allan Muskin. Muskin seeks a variance on the lot size for the two tracts in order to place single-family housing at both addresses. The lots don’t meet the required size of 5,750 square feet to allow single-family residential use within a multi-family zoning.

During his presentation, Bennett said the applicant had no interest in spending the money to repair the current structures, and implied that single-family residential would be better than other uses allowed without a variance under the current multi-family zoning. Several people signed up to speak in opposition to the variance, but the public hearing was postponed at Bennett’s request—partly because neither Bennett nor members of the board could find a written copy of the “findings of fact” that board members review when making their decisions. Gary Bechtol found out that it pays to plan ahead when he requested a variance for a house at 2206 West 11th Street. He wanted permission to maintain a deck and steps from the doorway out of one of the home’s back doors that would have infringed upon the required setback area. Neighbors, like Eleni Ackerman, opposed the request, saying, “The house was not sensitive to the area . . . It’s much larger than other homes . . . It’s essentially in our backyard.” Members of the board pointed out that the builder knew the size of the lot when the plans were first drawn; they then asked if the door could be moved to another part of the house. The board denied the variance by a vote of 5-0.

Nokonah first residential

Downtown highrise since '69

Project 70 percent preleased, says developer

Developer Robert Barnstone likes to describe The Nokonah on Lamar Avenue at the edge of downtown as his “Gregory Peck building.”

The actor once gave an interview in which he said that when you’re tall, it’s important not to overact. And that’s the way Barnstone sees The Nokonah, currently under construction at 700 North Lamar. The project, as of this week, is 70 percent pre-leased.

“It’s tall and it’s good looking, but it doesn’t fight for your attention,” Barnstone tells In Fact Daily. “It has a very contemporary international style to it.”

It’s been four years since Barnstone and his partner Perry Lorenz bought the land for the 11-story condominium tower from the heirs of the Scarbrough department store family. The Nokonah will be the first downtown residential high-rise since 1969. Four years ago, however, that stretch of Lamar Avenue was little more than a line of used-car dealerships, Lorenz remembers.

“We like to say that at the time we bought the land, we were considered visionaries,” Lorenz says. “A few months later we were called opportunists.” That’s because the Lamar retail corridor exploded, especially around the Sixth Street intersection.

Barnstone and Lorenz are into the fifth month of construction on The Nokonah. Much of the initial work is building the three-story underground garage. On top of it will be about 8,000 square feet of non-restaurant retail and 95 condominiums on 10 floors that will range in price from $200,000 to $2 million. The first residents will be moving in next spring.

Before the duo ever broke ground on The Nokonah, the property was 50 percent pre-leased. Barnstone says the buyers range in age from 23 to 82, including three newlywed couples. Lorenz says the area—on the Shoal Creek greenbelt but still part of downtown—was a big selling point.

“You can walk to the grocery store, the book store, a couple of hamburger joints,” Lorenz says. “All of these other (loft) projects may be in the middle of the action, but you still have to get in your car to drive to the grocery store.”

The striking look of The Nokonah was important to Barnstone and Lorenz. After scrapping the initial plans, they chose the San Antonio architectural firm of Lake/Flato to consult on the current design. Graeber, Simmons & Cowan of Austin are the architects and Faulkner Construction is building it.

Bennett tract committee

Begins to ponder zoning

Second meeting tonight

Members of the Planning Commission’s special committee on the East 11th Street site known as the Bennett Tract agreed last night that no building on the tract should rise above 200 feet. Commissioners Jim Robertson, Lydia Ortiz and Chair Betty Baker also said they hoped that developer Matt Mathias could put in a public plaza. Beyond that, there was little movement. (See In Fact Daily, March 7, 2001)

Those three, plus Commissioner Sterling Lands, who was absent, have until March 20 to come up with a solution that will be acceptable to three factions: the developer, Hispanic neighbors and African-American neighbors. The latter are mainly in agreement with Mathias, who is seeking zoning changes that would put more commercial development in the area. Others prefer that zoning remain mostly residential. The case is scheduled to go before the City Council on March 22.

The committee discussed a hotel or other commercial structure at 11th St. and I-35, agreeing that the building should be limited to 160 feet and should face 11th St., much like the Marriott on the other side of I-35.

The committee will meet again at 5:30 p.m. today in the third floor conference room at One American Center. Thursday’s meeting will be at 5:30 at A1 Auditorium at Huston-Tillotson College, 900 Chicon Street. Neither of these meetings includes public hearings.

©2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Pipeline legislation hearing . . . The Energy Resources Committee of the Texas House has scheduled hearings Wednesday on two bills regulating the Longhorn Pipeline. Nan Clayton, who is working with the bill’s author, Rep. Ann Kitchen, said the hearing might be between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., but is more likely to happen at noon, after the House adjourns its daily session. The hearings are scheduled for Room E1.010. For more information call 463-0700 . . . LCRA chief to speak. . . Joe Beal, general manager of the LCRA, will be keynote speaker at the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Thursday. Beal will discuss water issues, including the proposed agreement to transfer water from the Colorado River to San Antonio . . . Street closure . . . The city has announced that for several weeks only one lane of East 5th St. between Trinity and Red River will be open. Crews are relocating a 66-inch water line near the Convention Center . . . New jobs . . . Patricia Hayes, who has served as a senior executive with Seton Health Care Network for the past three years, will become Interim President and CEO of the organization on April 1. Hayes is a former president of St. Edwards University. Charles J. Barnett, who has been CEO for the network, will become a Senior Vice President for Ascension Health, the national organization with which Seton is affiliated . . . Consultant to address Democrats . . . Political consultant David Butts will discuss the 2002 and 2004 elections with South Austin Democrats tonight. The meeting begins at 5:30 p.m. at Rosie’s Tamale House, South Congress at Oltorf. t

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