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Planning Commission

Wednesday, July 11, 2001 by

Rejects Guadalupe villas

University neighborhoods split over zoning

The Planning Commission harshly rejected a proposal for new student-oriented housing near the University of Texas Tuesday evening. After hearing from dozens of neighbors complaining that the Villas on Guadalupe would exacerbate existing parking and traffic problems, the commission discussed the plan for just a few minutes before voting to reject the requested zoning change by a margin of 6 to 1.

Mike Mchone of Mchone Real Estate, representing the applicant, suggested a change from the existing CS zoning on the land at Guadalupe St. and Hemphill Park to MF-6 with a conditional overlay. City staff had recommended approval of the change, noting that the maximum development that would be allowed under the existing CS would bring more traffic and density than the proposed multi-family project. Mchone stressed the need for more student housing near campus and the in-fill nature of the project. “We believe that this area adjacent to the university would provide an area where we could down-zone the property and build student housing that would be safe and conducive to walking or biking to the university,” said Mchone. Plans called for a four-story complex of 143 units on about one acre of land, which developers estimated could house upwards of 500 students. “The reason for giving an MF-6 density is to get the number of units high enough that we can build a quality project,” Mchone said. Commissioner Ray Vrudhula voiced his skepticism early on by noting, “That’s a lot of people per acre.”

While the University Area Partners supported it, members of other neighborhood groups lined up to blast the proposed complex. Rachel Rawlins of George and Donaldson, representing the North University Neighborhood Association, lead the assault. “The neighborhood has several issues with the re-zoning,” she told commissioners. “They’re concerned about density, they’re concerned about parking, they’re concerned about traffic, and they’re concerned about the precedent that this sort of re-zoning would set for the area.” Dozens of others lined up to detail their specific objections and their comments were frequently punctuated by applause from other neighborhood residents. Neighbor Steve Sibley echoed concerns about the size and density, saying “I think it’s going to add to the traffic problems in our area, which are already bad and getting worse every day.” He was joined by Julia Spencer, who offered a personal appeal to commission members along with her opinion of UT students. “I’ve lost two cats to traffic around my house,” she said. “I feel that these new residents are likely to be young and careless and have a lot of money, and they have a sense of entitlement . . . they don’t care about the residents they’re affecting.”

Commissioners didn’t discuss the case much amongst themselves. The current CS zoning would theoretically allow much more development than the existing commercial parking lot, video store, office buildings and residence—that residence, the Roy Thomas House at 2812 Hemphill Park, had been approved for re-location by the Historic Landmark Commission). But commissioners doubted the site could be developed to its maximum allowable potential. “CS zoning is ludicrous at this location,” commission Chair Betty Baker said, “It’s not going to develop as CS and it’s not going to develop to 60 feet in height.”

Commissioner Jean Mather moved to deny the zoning change request, and Vrudhula offered a second. The vote was 6-1, with Commissioner Sterling Lands opposed. Commissioner Robin Cravey left the meeting early and Commissioner Ben Heimsath was absent.

Jerry Roemisch with the North University Neighborhood Association praised the decision. “We respect the commission’s judgment, but we realize there’s more to do,” he said. “We’re very grateful.”

Commission fails to

Rescind Hyde Park vote

City Council to hear case next week

After a short discussion, the Planning Commission last night rejected an attempt by four of its members to rescind a recommendation that the City Council approve the Hyde Park Neighborhood Plan and the Hyde Park Baptist Church’s Neighborhood Conservation Combining District. Chair Betty Baker led the charge to rescind the vote and reconsider approval of the plan, saying that she and three of her fellow commissioners did not intend that the church be required to follow regulations enacted after 1990.

The vote was 5-2 for rescission, with Commissioners Lydia Ortiz and Jean Mather opposed. Six votes are necessary in order for the commission to rescind a prior action. Commissioner Robin Cravey arrived after the vote and Commissioner Ben Heimsath lives in Hyde Park and has not participated in any of the votes on the neighborhood plan. Commissioner Jim Robertson voted for rescission, although he was not one of those wanting to change the recommendation. Robertson indicated that he was voting with Commissioners Silver Garza, Sterling Lands and Ray Vrudhula because he understood that they were confused when they voted last month. The City Council has already received a letter from the four dissenting commissioners stating their opposition to changing regulations for the church. (See In Fact Daily June 15 and June 20, 2001).

There was no public hearing last night, although the commission listened to a number of angry Hyde Park residents when the matter first arose several weeks ago. Neighborhood leader Karen McGraw said the vote went as she had expected, but added that the neighborhood now has a new worry. McGraw produced a letter from Jim Natichioni for Criterion Interests, Inc., the owner of the US Post Office property at 4300 Speedway, to Mike Heitz, director of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department.

In that letter, Natichioni says his company is “strongly opposed to the proposed NCCD zoning changes” to the post office property. “We have talked to representatives of the Hyde Park Baptist Church and will go shoulder to shoulder with them in fighting this all the way.” He also says he plans to gather enough signatures in the area to trigger the City Council’s super majority requirement. If 20 percent of affected landowners sign in opposition to a zoning change, a six-vote majority is required. The plan is scheduled for Council action July 19.

McGraw said the plan would leave the property in question zoned CS, but with local retail uses and a prohibition on drive-through services. She said the plan would also allow for potential residential uses to the property. Pointing out that residential property in Hyde Park is more than three times more valuable than commercial property, McGraw said she could not understand his objections. Natichioni lives in Charlotte, North Carolina..

Travis County ready to waive

Fees for affordable housing

Mitchell says at least 40 percent of Briar Creek will be affordable

Milburn Home’s Briarcreek subdivision in East Travis County will be the test case for just how far the Travis County Commissioners Court will go to encourage affordable housing.

At least 40 percent of the homes in the Briarcreek subdivision will qualify as affordable housing, developer Terry Mitchell told commissioners. Mitchell is developing the property in partnership with landowner Dick Rathgeber. The subdivision, with its 1,033 homes, is located on Blake Manor Road south of Manor. One hundred fifty homes will comprise the first phase of the 631-acre development, which should be completed in the next 10 months.

Mitchell presented drawings of the subdivision at Travis County Commissioners Court Tuesday morning. Commissioners asked members of the county’s Transportation and Natural Resources staff to bring a proposal next week on how the commissioners could waive subdivision fees on low-income housing developments. The proposal will include a policy on how the county can handle and verify homeowner issues.

“Our main concern was what assurances we would have that these would be quality homes,” County Judge Sam Biscoe told Mitchell. “We’ve had affordable homes that have turned out not to be the quality product that we need to see and some of the public entities that have partnered with private entities have been caught up in the bad news.”

Briarcreek’s homes will cost from the low-$80s to the mid-$90s. The current median price of a house in Austin is $150,000. Mitchell said the homes would range from 1,000 to 1,400 square feet and have from 2 to 4 bedrooms. Milburn Homes will not make a profit on the homes, Mitchell indicated. Instead, Briarcreek will be the company’s commitment “to give something back to the community that has given so much to us,” Mitchell said.

The exterior of the homes, Mitchell told the commissioners, will be hardy plank, which will save the homebuilder between $2,000 and $5,000 on masonry costs. Hardy plank has the same warranty as many brick exteriors, he said.

The subdivision will also enforce deed restrictions on the homes. “This does have a homeowners association and there is a fund there to enforce deed restrictions,” Mitchell told commissioners. “We don’t want it to be 10 years down the road and this be an eyesore.”

A total of 300 acres of land will be set aside as parkland. One way Milburn Homes will be able to save on the bottom line is by not having to pay out on lots until each house is sold. That cuts the cost of the inventory that Milburn Homes would be obligated to carry at any given time.

County officials anticipate that Briarcreek will only be the first of a number of low-income projects in Travis County. The county’s proposal to waive the subdivision fees on affordable housing projects could save $100 to $300 per lot. Joe Gieselman, director of the TNR staff, said the total savings for Milburn Homes would be $17,000.

Commissioners did have concerns about how the eligibility guidelines would be verified on potential homeowners and asked staff members to draft a policy on the issue similar to the current homeowner assistance program. Pct. 3 Commissioner Todd Baxter asked whether the county was spending its dollars wisely by waiving fees. Biscoe suggested that the Travis County Housing Finance Corporation might pick up the cost of the fees.

“I can think of no better expenditure of Housing Finance Corporation money,” Biscoe said.

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

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