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Planning Commission to study

Wednesday, March 7, 2001 by

Bennett tract proposal in committee

Commission needs decision before March 22 Council meeting

Members of the Planning Commission were reluctant to postpone a hearing on the East Austin property known as the Bennett tract last night, but having heard opposing points of view they became reluctant to make a decision on city staff’s proposed revisions to the Neighborhood Conservation Combining District (NCCD). Chair Betty Baker proposed that a five-member committee of the commission meet between today and March 20 to come up with a solution.

Two neighborhoods, roughly divided between the Ebenezer Baptist Church on East 10th Street and the Guadalupe Catholic Church on East 9th Street, have been meeting for nine months to try to craft a compromise that would fulfill the aspirations each side has for the community. The district is bounded roughly by 11th Street on the North, 7th Street on the South, San Marcos on the East and I-35 on the West. Tracy Watson, director of special projects and development dispute resolution, mediated between the parties, which included Matt Mathias of Riata Development.

Adam Smith of the Development Review and Inspection Department told the commission that a number of agreements did come out of the mediation sessions, including an agreement that future development would not include a mall. In addition, the parties agreed to limit building space to 1,250,000 square feet, including a residential component on Tracts 1-7.

Smith recommended a prohibition of non-residential uses on properties owned by the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corp. and by an individual landowner who had requested the prohibition. Also, he suggested that residential uses be allowed on any part of the property, which will be zoned CS (commercial services), except where otherwise noted.

Last May, In Fact Daily reported that representatives of the African-American and Hispanic communities who live in the 11th and 12th Street area were said to be close to reaching a compromise on how to rezone the NCCD. The Planning Commission hearing was extended one week to allow talks to continue and the City Council directed staff to present the rollback ordinance to council no later than May 11, 2000. However, the parties continued to work toward compromise, coming back to the commission 10 times for postponements before last night’s hearing.

The tract was originally slated to become a mall under an NCCD in 1991. (See In Fact Daily March 13, May 5, 2000) Since the mall was never built, a restrictive covenant in the deed states that the property owners cannot object to a zoning rollback. However, others in the neighborhood did object to it.

Van Johnson representing the East Austin Redevelopment Corp., which was sponsored by the Ebenezer Church to spur redevelopment in the area, told the commission he hoped they would approve the staff recommendation. “In 1991, this property was rezoned at the request of the community, particularly the African-American (community) and the churches. We reduced density by 400,000 square feet and excluded a mall . . . we let that go and we’ve attempted to come to a compromise to see something meaningful and worthwhile that brings major investment East of I-35.”

Johnson said the major investment East of I-35 has been anti-poverty bonds. “If we run another developer away and reduce the heights, nobody else is coming. If we want it to be like the rest of the city…we have to let people like Riata develop.”

Jose Quintero with the Greater East Austin Neighborhood Association also asked for approval of Riata’s plan. He said, “Matt Mathias is a native son of Austin and not an out-of-town developer who may or may not have feeling for Austin and all of its citizens. If this opportunity to develop this land in the right way fails, who knows when we’ll get the opportunity again?”

On the other side, Mario Renteria, president of the Guadalupe Association for an Improved Neighborhood, said he and others are worried about the increased traffic development will bring to the area. He said he does not view the struggle as “us against them. We’ve never seen it that way. This is about preserving a historic neighborhood.”

Renteria said his neighborhood is also concerned about the height of buildings on I-35. Matthias is proposing up to 220 feet at 11th and I-35. Renteria said, “I want to make sure that the sun doesn’t go down at 3 p.m. in our neighborhood. Not that we’re against the development (but we) want to make sure whatever it is protects the community.”

Baker had trouble filling her committee because many commissioners are taking trips for spring break. Serving with Baker will be Commissioners Lydia Ortiz, Jim Robertson and Sterling Lands. Baker promised that the meetings would be posted and open to members of the public. She said the commission will make a decision on the case on March 20, but the public hearing is closed. The commission is under pressure to make a decision quickly because the City Council is scheduled to hear the case on March 22. Interim development controls prohibiting the filing of a new site plan will expire on April 6, according to city documents.

Commission approves upscale

Apartments across from Exposé

Neighbors support mixed-use but worry about density

Location provided the nickname of one apartment project the Planning Commission approved for zoning changes last night: the Villas of Exposé.

Developer Jay Symcox has a mixed-use plan in mind for the 3700 block of Congress, just across from the topless club Exposé. The tract is currently zoned Limited Industrial. It’s one of the first tracts on South Congress south of Oltorf to be developed for higher-end retail and residential use—which for the most part suits neighbors.

The project would actually be on two tracts of land originally zoned in 1985 as a shelter for the Salvation Army. That site plan has since lapsed. On one tract the developer wants to put a mix of 25,600 square feet of office and retail space. On the other, he asked for a high-density zoning designation that would allow up to 450 apartment units in four-story buildings on the site.

Symcox has developed duplexes in the area, including the Bouldin Creek Cottages. The South River City Citizens Association wants the development, but with certain limitations. President Clarke Hammond articulated these to the Planning Commission.

“The light industrial is not an appropriate use of that area,” Hammonds said. “We celebrate development down there. We love the idea of mixed-use along South Congress. We’re very supportive of that, but the developer wants to put 450 units on 6 acres, and we think that is way too dense. We would be happier with a smaller development.”

The civic association also asked for a slight decrease in impervious cover, on-site rainwater retention, a four-way traffic light on Alpine Drive and traffic devices that encourage traffic to flow onto South Congress and not back into the neighborhood.

Consultant Sarah Crocker argued that local expectations are based on a surburban, rather than urban, development model. The high density, the four-story height and the lack of a detention pond are all characteristics of a mixed-use project in the city’s core. The project is also located in an urban watershed, which limits detention ponds.

The Planning Commission approved one tract to be zoned MF-6 with a conditional overlay and the other to be zoned Commercial Services-Mixed Use-Conditional Overlay. The vote, approved 8-1 with only Commissioner Jean Mather dissenting, did include some conditions. When Commissioner Ben Heimsath made the motion—subsequently slightly amended by fellow commissioners—he asked for protection for 90 percent of the larger trees on the site as well as a cap of 405 living units.

The height of the project was the subject of lively debate. Local homeowners were concerned that the apartments, tucked behind the retail strip, would obstruct the view of Old Main at St. Edwards University. A discussion followed of how much of Old Main could be seen from various vantage points on South Congress. Crocker argued that the LI zoning already allowed a 60-foot height on the property. MF-6 allows up to 90 feet. Crocker added that she wasn’t sure that the developer would use the maximum allowances under the zoning. Engineering has yet to be completed on the property, although Crocker did present some architectural renderings for the commissioners to view.

Mather voted against the motion, saying the area already had enough apartment units. She then pointed out “perfectly fine” uses of Limited Industrial land currently under development in the area, such as a place where artists would be casting tile.

Time Warner's Roadrunner

Suffers an email outage

Speedy server suffers giant 'hiccup'

Folks at Roadrunner, the high-speed cable modem run by Time Warner, had another bad day Tuesday. Email to about 100,000 Texas customers was slowed to a trickle. On Monday, one of Roadrunner’s email servers “hiccuped,” according to Steve Farabee, vice president of digital operations. That hiccup stopped Roadrunner subscribers throughout the state, except those in El Paso, from sending and receiving email. “The actual outage of the mail was a short while yesterday morning,” Farabee said, but dealing with the backlog has created its own problems.

Farabee compared the problem to what happens when a computer stops operating and starts going through its checklist of possible problems. However, unlike a personal computer self-exam, a server that goes offline may take many hours to completely work through that process, Farabee said. He said the company brought in another server to replace the one that’s still going through its electronic checks. “So now, there’s giga gigabytes of mail” to be processed, he said.

Roadrunner, which signed up its first Texas customers in October 1998, has seen tremendous growth in the past two years, Farabee said. That growth means Roadrunner needs to find the correct combination of servers to prevent future problems, he said.

The company assures visitors to its web site that the email is safe and will eventually be delivered. Other Roadrunner functions are operating properly.

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

More affordable housing . . . Henry Cisneros will be at St. Edwards University on March 29 to unveil his plan for affordable housing in Austin. Cisneros is partnering with Kaufman and Broad in what is called The KB Home/American CityVista Project . . . City Hall plan viewing . . . Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman will host a ribbon cutting at 11 a.m. this morning for the new City Hall Design Review Center, 101 W. 5th Street. The center will be open three days a week for those who want to take advantage of this “terminally democratic” city’s resources: Tuesdays from noon to 5 p.m., Thursdays from noon to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m . . . Say what? . . . The big laugh during last night’s hearing on the Bennett tract came when Rev. Tony Johnson, who was supporting the developer’s proposal, told the commission he was quoting Coach Royal when he said, “That dog pees straight,” meaning that’s the truth.

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