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Planning Commission says

Wednesday, May 9, 2001 by

90-foot height OK on Town Lake

Commission split on zoning change for E. Riverside

By a vote of 5-4, the Planning Commission last night recommended a zoning change for 1400 E. Riverside Drive from SF-3 to MF-6. If eventually approved by the City Council, the zoning change would allow construction of a 90-foot tall apartment building along Town Lake.

According to Jim Bennett, who appeared before the commission representing Street Development Ltd. and Robert N. Garrett, there is not yet an official site plan for the project. But Bennett did tell commissioners his client would like to build an eight-story tower with 200 apartment units along with two levels of parking below-grade. He described the proposed apartments as “medium-priced,” saying they would be “an alternative to some of the higher-rise condominiums that you see developing downtown.”

The rents for the proposed apartments didn’t trouble commissioners as much as access to the site from the busy intersection of I-35 and Riverside. Commissioners Ray Vrudhula and Jean Mather both voiced their concerns that 200 new apartment units would lead to more traffic. While Bennett admitted there was plenty of congestion at the intersection, he minimized the effect of a new high-rise in the area. “Based on what the city traffic folks tell us, it should not have that much of a significant impact,” he said.

Representatives of two South Austin neighborhood groups addressed the issue of the building’s height and its impact on the view of Town Lake. Clarke Hammond president of the South River City Citizens neighborhood association made a return trip before the Commission to warn against the encroachment of downtown-style development into South Austin. “Our feeling is that we don’t want to see downtown moving into our neighborhood,” he told commissioners. “I feel like I’m getting to be an old hand here (at the Planning Commission). I always thought I lived in a really cool neighborhood, and I guess a lot of other people think so too. We’re dealing with about one thousand new apartment units being added to our neighborhood in the next twelve months.” Hammond suggested a smaller building along Town Lake, with a zoning of MF-4 and a maximum height of 60 feet.

Bryan King with the South Lamar Neighborhood Association echoed his concerns. “We would prefer a much shorter building to prohibit creating the ‘urban canyon’ down Town Lake,” King said. He also encouraged commissioners to consider how the project would proceed if it fell within the area covered by the guidelines for Town Lake submitted by the ROMA Design Group of San Francisco. Those have not yet been approved by the City Council (see In Fact Daily, Oct. 27, 2000), but have been a focal point for discussion when reviewing projects along Town Lake and Riverside. “We’d like to see the ROMA guidelines moved east of I-35,” King said. “What’s good for west of I-35 is good for east of I-35.”

Commissioner Jean Mather led the push for less density and protection of the view along Town Lake. The 90-foot proposed height, she said, would be out of character with the other development in the area. “It really would be a complete aberration to see as you looked along that side of the bank . . . to see a building sticking up like that.” Mather moved to limit the height of the building to 60 feet and change the zoning to MF-4.

While she had strong support from three other commissioners, that wasn’t enough to carry the motion. A substitute motion from Commissioner Ray Vrudhula to approve the staff recommendation of MF-6 and a 90-foot height limit passed 5-4. Commissioners Ben Heimsath, Robin Cravey, and Chair Betty Baker joined Mather in opposing Vrudhula’s substitute motion. Baker expressed serious concerns about the precedent-setting nature of the commission’s decision on Riverside east of I-35. “The apartment complexes there now have pretty much spent their lives as far as the amortization schedules go,” Baker said. “If we give them MF-6 zoning here you’re going to find an MF-3 tract and an MF-4 tract or an MF-2 tract saying, ‘they got it down there’, and it’s going to domino. That’s what I fear more than the height of this location, that we cannot say no after we’ve once said yes.”

Commission votes to allow

More retail, office on highways

Northwest, southwest properties get similar results

The Planning Commission last night recommended zoning changes for properties on FM 2222 and Loop 360, but acknowledged that traffic along those roads would only get worse as more property owners decide to develop.

No opponent appeared to protest the change in zoning from SF-2 (single-family) to GR (general retail) at 11302 FM 2222, not far from the intersection with RM 620. But Katie Larsen of the Neighborhood Zoning and Planning Department explained that she had recommended LO-CO (limited office with a conditional overlay) in the hope that the less intensive zoning might encourage pedestrian and bicycle use.

Larsen also recommended a prohibition against drive-through services as an accessory use. Planning Commission Chair Betty Baker was incredulous at the thought of pedestrian and bicycle users on such a busy highway.

Michael Whelan of Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody, representing applicant Thomas Ricci, said, “I will pay anybody, staff or otherwise, if they can find someone walking to an office on 2222.”

Whelan said five million square feet of office space is already on the ground within one mile of the site. The three lots requesting the change are surrounded by GR, he explained, noting that “GR is going to do a better job on the traffic because the peak a.m. hour is going to be later,” for GR than for offices.

Staff had also recommended that the properties dedicate 70 feet of right-of-way, which Whelan opposed. He said that the Texas Department of Transportation had already indicated that the road would not be widened. Therefore, the right-of-way is not needed. Larsen said she had requested information on the matter from TxDOT and was still waiting on the department’s response.

Commissioner Robin Cravey moved for staff recommendation, including the conditional overlay, with Commissioner Jean Mather seconding.

Commissioner Ben Heimsath offered a substitute, proposing GR with a 2,000 trip per day limit on visitors to the site. Heimsath said, “I am not only very concerned about this area in terms of its environmental impact, but also that we haven’t done anybody any favors in leaving this absolutely ludicrous intersection,” meaning the Four Points intersection—RM 620 and FM 2222. He said they should not refuse to grant GR zoning now, because to do so would be “punishing the last man out.” He concluded that the area is “ripe for a traffic study.”

Mather tried to talk Heimsath into accepting an amendment prohibiting banks and fast food restaurants to eliminate drive-through possibilities, but Heimsath wouldn’t agree. His motion was approved on a vote of 6-2, with Mather and Cravey voting no. Commissioner Sterling Lands had not yet arrived at the meeting.

In the next case, Jeff Howard of Minter, Joseph & Thornhill, told commissioners his case was very much like the one before it. “We had hoped for a pad site for office,” at the intersection of Walsh Tarlton Lane at Loop 360, he said, but now were hoping for GR, like most of the surrounding properties, such as Barton Creek Mall.

Howard said area neighbors had agreed to the development with a promise that the developer would not build within a 100-foot setback along the rear of the property, which adjoins the neighborhood. The developer, Leon Schmidt, also agreed not to allow a number of mostly unlikely uses for the property, including campground, exterminating services, pawn shop services and auto sales, rentals, washing and repair services.

The 12-acre property is within the Edward’s Aquifer Recharge Zone and limited to 15 percent impervious cover. Height is limited to 45 feet by the Hill Country Roadway Ordinance, according to Planning Commission documents.

On a motion by Commissioner Silver Garza, the commission voted to recommend that the zoning be changed to LO-CO in the 100-foot setback and GR on the remainder. Commissioners Ray Vrudhula, Mather and Cravey voted no. Commissioner Sterling Lands abstained.

Mueller carved from airport

Bill by Rep. Dawna Dukes

Neighbors can relax on this issue

“That is the site where the ‘Miss Congeniality’ movie was shot by Sandra Bullock,” said State Rep Dawna Dukes (D-Austin) of Mueller Airport. “So today, Mr. Congeniality is going to help me offer this amendment to the bill so we can continue to have great movies here in the Austin area,” Dukes continued, referring to State Rep Ron Wilson (D-Houston) during discussion of HB 2522 yesterday.

Neighbors of the Robert Mueller Airport site can breathe a little easier now that HB 2522 has been amended before the Texas House of Representatives. The language approved in the House on Tuesday is similar to that included in an amendment to SB 304 when it came to the House last month (see In Fact Daily, April 26, 2001). It calls for the Texas Department of Transportation to seek out a site for a new general aviation airport in Central Texas—but specifically excludes Mueller from consideration. It also includes a provision requiring the state to obtain approval from both the city and county in which the airport would be located. Dukes said those provisions were acceptable to Wilson. “Just like Sandra Bullock said in the movie, ‘I think he likes it.’”

The City of Austin is well into the process of converting the old airport into a new neighborhood with residential and commercial development. A Request for Qualifications for a master developer for the site has already gone out, with May 29th the deadline for proposals. The city will have several weeks to evaluate those proposals before choosing a short list of finalists. A master developer could be selected for the project by the end of the year.

Jim Walker of the Mueller Neighborhoods Coalition pronounced Rep. Dukes “the hero of the day.”

Late breaking news from the Legislature

Zoning legislation still pending . . . SB 1398 by Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), which would make it expensive for cities to downzone property over an owner’s objections, had a three-part hearing in the House Land and Resource Management Committee yesterday. The bill was left pending at the close of the hearing late last night. The bill, which the City of Austin and other Texas municipalities oppose, would allow a property owner to sue the city as if the land had been condemned, if the zoning change resulted in a devaluation of 25 percent or more, unless the owner agreed or failed to object upon notice. The Senate has already approved the measure. (See In Fact Daily, May 1, 2001).

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

Lottery Commission gains new authority . . . State Rep. Pat Haggerty (R-El Paso) told fellow House members last night, “This is the black helicopter bill of the evening.” HB 2578, Haggerty explained, gives the Texas Lottery Commission the authority to issue subpoenas to investigate whether a bingo operation is devoting its earnings to charity . . . Traffic hotline opens today . . . The Austin Police Department and the Transportation and Planning Department will begin operating a traffic hotline for the public to report traffic violations at 5 p.m. today. The hotline will be open until 10:30 p.m. The number is 474-2211 . . . South Austin site of homes tour . . . The Heritage Society of Austin’ s annual historic homes tour is in Fairview Park, one of Austin’s oldest subdivisions south of the Colorado River. The area is between the funky shops of South Congress and Stacy Park. Fairview Park was originally designed to be one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Austin, according to the Heritage Society. Homes on the tour include Victorian mansions, historic cottages and 20th century bungalows. Friday night from 7 to 10 p.m., the society is hosting a block party at the San Jose Hotel, the Continental Club and the Austin Hotel, with food catered by Liberty Catering. You can enjoy live music by Ted Roddy poolside at the San Jose and the Latin rhythms of Susanna Sharpe and the Brazilian Quartet at the Austin Motel. Across the street at Texas Folklife Resources, you can seen an exclusive showing of vintage roadhouse signs collected and restored by Austin artist Evan Voyles of the Neon Jungle. For more information, call the Heritage Society at 474-5198 or visit

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