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Planning Commission has easy

Monday, November 19, 2001 by

Choices in East Austin rezonings

The question of sub-districts lingers

The Planning Commission has recommended dozens of zoning changes—including a substantial number of downzonings and provisions to promote urban infill development—for two Eastside neighborhoods. Zoning changes associated with neighborhood plans for the Central East Austin Neighborhood and the Rosewood Neighborhood plans were passed with little opposition.

Some participants in the Central East planning process had requested the option of creating subdistricts within their planning area to allow different infill options, specifically for the Blackshear neighborhood. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 9, 2001.) Commissioners did not take a position on subdistricts, and the zoning changes will go on to City Council without a positive recommendation from the staff or the commission on that issue. However, Commission Chair Ben Heimsath indicated he personally supported that concept.

“It was an unfortunate need to ask this group to go through that kind of compromise, where one group had to essentially trade off to another just because of our inflexibility,” Heimsath said. ““If the codes aren’t flexible enough, I think we can make them more flexible.”

Overall, commissioners were impressed with the plan and the accompanying zoning changes. “The staff has done an outstanding job trying to bring all voices to the table,” said Commissioner Sterling Lands. Heimsath joined Lands in praising the effort in developing the plan. “I don’t want anybody who might be visiting this for the first time to ignore the long hours and good leadership of the people who aren’t here right now, partly because they’ve already done their work,” Heimsath said. “You’re seeing a lot of compromise, a lot of creativity and a lot of trade-off. We really have to hold up what you have accomplished as a very exciting and very creative model.”

Lands moved for approval of the zoning changes associated with the plan, but also used the opportunity to question the impact of future development in East Austin. “I am very concerned that we have to look a little bit harder at the financial impact in the long term on the residents,” Lands said, “so we don’t end up with some of the things that have happened on West 11th and 12th, where the community completely changes . . . and the people that live there are, through gentrification . . . whether it’s by design or not . . . unable to afford to live there.”

Heimsath offered a defense of the neighborhood planning process. “There have been criticisms of the planning process in East Austin . . . that somehow it is part and parcel of the problem of gentrification,” he said. “This is certainly an area where gentrification has the potential of happening if we don’t plan. There’s some parts of this neighborhood that are under extreme pressure already. But I see this plan as being the best opportunity for preserving what needs to be preserved and for being able to allow for incremental and appropriate change and growth within the structure that already exists—as opposed to unplanned pressures which lead to the gentrification we all fear.”

During the public hearing on the Central East Austin zoning changes, Veronica Rivera with Minter Joseph & Thornhill made a request on behalf of the owner of 2413 E. 7th street to remove a conditional overlay on the lot. The property is currently used as a service station, and the conditional overlay would place limits on other automotive-related uses on the property such as auto sales or auto rentals. Commissioners voted to send the zoning changes on to the City Council with the conditional overlay and suggested to the property owner continue that he work with city staffers and the Neighborhood Planning team to reach a resolution before the item reaches the Council.

One landowner in the Rosewood neighborhood also requested a change for the recommended zoning for his property at 2604 Rosewood, where he operates a childcare facility called the Rosewood Oaks Primary School. James Wallace said the staff recommendation for his property would unfairly limit his ability to expand or modify his business. Commissioners decided not to endorse the staff recommendation for that site, but also directed Wallace to seek out the least-intensive zoning needed for the site and to continue discussions with city staff. The City Council is expected to vote on the zoning changes associated with the Rosewood Neighborhood Plan and the Central East Austin Neighborhood Plan in early December.

In Fact takes another

Look at Bear Lake PUD

Short-handed Environmental Board got information late

On Friday, we reported on the Environmental Board’ s failure to make a recommendation on Stratus Properties’ Bear Lake Planned Unit Development (PUD). (See In Fact Daily, November 16, 2001.) We neglected to mention that Chair Lee Leffingwell offered to recuse himself before the presentation on the PUD because his son works at Drenner & Stuart, the law firm representing Stratus. He said his son had nothing to do with the project and no one encouraged him to sit out the discussion or vote. Following the presentation, Leffingwell made a complex motion with a number of recommendations concerning the tract. In Fact Daily reported it as a recommendation of the PUD, with strict water quality recommendations, among other things.

The PUD straddles the Travis and Hays County line at the intersection of SH 45 and FM 1826. It consists of 536.7 acres, all within Austin city limits and the Barton Springs Zone, and thus subject to the SOS ordinance. Sixty percent of the tract’s net site area is in the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and forty percent is in the Contributing Zone. Leffingwell's motion also recommended that city staff be provided with a detailed karst survey, a drainage study with correct delineation of critical water quality zones, and that the tract “be fully compliant with or superior to the SOS ordinance with regard to water quality.” Leffingwell says it was not a recommendation in favor of the PUD, but merely a list of recommendations, which is what the written motion reflects. Karin Ascot, who seconded the motion, said it was not her impression that they were recommending the PUD either, but if the PUD is approved, it should have those conditions. We regret the error, but we note that it is highly unusual to attach conditions to a development without a positive recommendation.

Board Members Debra Williams and Phil Moncada voted against the motion. Williams said on Sunday that she was uncertain whether Leffingwell intended a positive recommendation. She knew only that he was declaring that certain conditions should be attached to the Environmental Board recommendation. She voted against the motion, she said, because she felt that the board had been given inadequate information and that city staff had not finished the job of hashing out all the details with the developer. She said, “I felt as if not voting for it would put it back in the hands of the staff. I was not for it or against it per se.”

Williams now works for a private firm, but was a city staff member a few years back. She has experienced pressure from developers and their representatives to put their developments on the fast track. She said she felt that the project was moving too fast—especially since the board was given a great deal of backup material during the presentation.

When the board has its next retreat, Williams said, she is going to suggest that any project that arrives with inadequate backup be postponed automatically until the next meeting. Otherwise, she said, “We look like a bunch of dumb-dumbs.” The Bear Creek PUD is scheduled to return to the Environmental Board for consideration in December. Perhaps the full commission will be present for that meeting.

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2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Our heroines . . . During last week’s flooding, the office of In Fact Daily took on water. That meant removing the carpet, the computers, the fax, etc. and washing all the muddy towels used to shore up our fort. Mary Ann Neely of the Lower Colorado River Authority came through the storm with towels and sheets to help keep the water out. On Saturday, Toye Goodson, assistant to Council Member Beverly Griffith came to assist in restoring the premises to a semi-normal state. We salute them both . . . CAMPO to make important decision tonight. . . CAMPO’s Policy Advisory Committee is scheduled to act on recommendations from their citizens advisory group on MoPac (Loop1/183). The citizens group voted to extend Phase 1 of the planning process for MoPac extension to get more input from stakeholders and to postpone connecting SH45 South with MoPac until after SH 130 is completed. The Save Our Springs Alliance has asked CAMPO to delete that section of SH 45 from its plan on a permanent basis, as the City of Austin has done . . . Who gets the juice . . . the Mayor, that’s who. When all the lights went off at City Hall and the rest of downtown Thursday, the office of Mayor Gus Garcia was able to watch the storm and flooding on TV with an on-site generator supplying the electricity. Garcia’s staff invited other stuck City Council staffers to join them in the light . . . The third musketeer . . . We hear that Adam Smith of the Neighborhood Planning & Zoning Department will be joining the staff of Mayor Gus Garcia. He will join Executive Assistants Paul Saldaña and Cecilia Gratia . . . Party tonight. . . The Save Barton Creek Association will hold its 22nd annual awards party from 6-10pm tonight at the Splash Exhibit at Barton Springs Pool . . . Holiday week . . . Neither the City Council nor the Zoning and Platting Commission will meet this week. The Urban Transportation Commission and the Design Commission are both meeting tonight. In Fact Daily will take off Thursday and Friday to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with our families. We hope you have a good holiday too.

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