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ZAP hears twisted tale of

Thursday, December 6, 2001 by

Villas on Guadalupe again

But outcome on rehearing still pending

The Villas on Guadalupe will likely go back to the ZAP Commission for a fourth hearing next week after a split vote by commissioners at this week’s meeting. The commission voted 4-3, with one abstention and one member absent, to recommend a zoning of MF-6 for the tract in the 2700 block of Guadalupe. But the recommendation included an extensive list of restrictions designed to reduce the number of units that would be allowed at the proposed apartment complex.

The request for MF-6 (multi-family) zoning wound up before the ZAP after receiving approval, with restrictions, on first reading from the City Council. (See In Fact Daily, Nov. 9, 2001.) The Council directed representatives of the developer and NUNA (the North University Neighborhood Association) to attend a mediation session in an attempt to reach a compromise on the issue of density. The proposal before the ZAP included a change in the project’s design to shield the parking garage from the view of Hemphill Park residents, but did not change the overall number of units. “It does have aesthetic improvements,” said NUNA attorney Rachel Rawlins, “but they didn’t address our core concerns. We need a reduction in density.”

Instead of the MF-6 and CS-MU (Commercial Services-Mixed Use) zonings requested by the developer for the two tracts making up the project, she suggested a zoning of MF-4. NUNA President Jerry Roemisch joined Rawlins and told commissioners he felt the compromise proposal did not go far enough to meet the neighborhood’s concerns. “The proposal that’s now before you is essentially no different than where we started eight months ago,” Roemisch said. “The density is still the same . . . this clearly defies neighborhood input.”

The project was originally conceived for 170 apartment units, but was later scaled back to 163 units. The number of proposed tenants has remained around 500, with the developer targeting students at the nearby University of Texas as the most likely residents. The desire to limit density of the project and the number of tenants led to some convoluted discussions among members of the commission as they tried to define a bedroom and searched for a way to regulate the sleeping habits of college students. “A den could function as a bedroom, but not be counted as a bedroom” said Chair Betty Baker. Mike McHone, who represented the applicant, told commissioners that the regulation of the number of students occupying each unit would be a function of the complex’s management team.

After a motion to recommend MF-4 zoning for the site failed, Commissioner Keith Jackson offered a motion to recommend MF-6, while attaching guidelines on apartment unit size, building height and the ratio of parking spaces to bedrooms. “The MF-4 has the FAR (floor to area ratio) that I don’t necessarily want to restrict,” Jackson said. “By restricting the size of the units we’re not completely tying them to MF-4 . . . but we would be reducing the density.” Jackson said he was unsure how his own motion would affect the development. “We can’t design it for the applicant, nor can the neighborhood association design it,” he said. “Free enterprise, to a certain extent, is going to govern this.”

That uncertainty troubled other commissioners, including Vincent Aldridge, who was the only commissioner to vote in favor of MF-6 when the project was presented to the ZAP at the end of October. (See In Fact Daily, Nov. 1, 2001.) “Now, I’m thoroughly confused,” Aldridge said. “What’s the impact on the applicant? I don’t know if what we do is going to be a ‘death penalty’ . . . the bottom line is, we’re just shooting in the dark and I don’t know the ramifications of what we’re doing.” The ambiguity also concerned Commissioner Angular Adams, who abstained from voting on any of the motions brought forward on the item.

Commissioners Jackson, Aldridge, Joseph Martinez and Baker all voted in favor of the MF-6 recommendation with the additional restrictions. Commissioners Jean Mather, Niyanta Spelman and Diana Castañeda were opposed. Commissioner Adams abstained and Commissioner Michael Casias was absent. Although a majority of commissioners present voted in favor of the MF-6 recommendation, the motion did not receive the five votes required by ZAP Commission rules for passage. It’s likely the item will be re-posted on the ZAP agenda next week, the fourth time the ZAP or Planning Commission will have dealt with the case.

ZAP approves duplex plan

For Oak Hill neighborhood

Neighbors complain about property values, traffic

After a lecture from Chair Betty Baker on the need for rental housing in Austin, the Zoning and Platting Commission voted 7-1 Tuesday night to allow Benchmark Development Corp. to build five duplexes on undeveloped property along the north side of Convict Hill Road.

A number of people complained about the plan to locate duplexes near their single-family homes. Allen Christianson told commissioners, “Our concern with SF-3 is that it that would allow duplexes. I’m not really against growth (but) would like single-family homes, not duplexes.” He went on to say that renters who occupy duplexes “aren’t concerned with the appearance of the duplex and the landlord is not either . . . and after a while (the property) deteriorates and affects my property value.”

Another neighbor, W.M. Williams, said the duplexes would devalue surrounding property. “Duplexes don’t belong there,” he concluded. Several neighbors said they were worried about the safety of neighborhood children with the added traffic from the duplexes.

Lauretta Dowd, representing Benchmark Development, said because of the price, estimated at $350,000, she believes each unit would be owner-occupied on one side. “There aren’t any rental properties in the area, so I do think it fills a need. And I think the developer is sensitive to building something that is compatible,” with surrounding homes, she said. Lots would be no less than 8,000 square feet, she said.

Dowd told the commission the duplex plan would disturb fewer trees and allow the developer to have approximately the same amount of development as was previously approved.

City planner Wendy Walsh said she was recommending one joint access driveway from the property onto Convict Hill Road. Under a prior site plan, the developer agreed not to allow the property direct access to Breezy Pass, a neighborhood cul-de-sac. Walsh recommended allowing expansion of Breezy Pass to provide cars space to turn around more easily, but not access from the neighborhood street to Convict Hill Road, which has limited visibility. She explained that under a site plan approved in 1984 the developer would have built 11 single-family homes. The revised duplex plan represents a reduction of one unit, from 11 to 10 and maintains the drainage and detention pond on the eastern portion of the property. The drainage area will remain undeveloped and keep its DR (Development Reserve) zoning, Walsh said.

Commission Chair Betty Baker and Commissioner Keith Jackson both said it would be safer to route traffic onto Breezy Pass rather than Convict Hill Road. Baker said “Sixty-one percent of the people of the City of Austin . . . rent their homes . . . and I think that is very significant. I think anyone would prefer to own their homes, but more than half do not.” She then made a motion to allow five duplex lots at SF-3, with no development on lots east of Breezy Pass, with a common driveway to Breezy Pass. The vote was 7-1, with Commissioner Diana Castañeda voting no and Commissioner Michael Casias was absent.

Downtown Commission OKs

Great Streets for Hampton Inn

Commission disagrees with Historic panel on Rainey study

The Downtown Commission last night endorsed participation by the new Hampton Inn & Suites in the Great Streets program, which will link the CSC/City Hall complex to the Austin Convention Center. The 16-story hotel, located at the northwest corner of Second Street and San Jacinto across from the Visitor Information Center, is scheduled to open in October 2002. Valencia Hotel Corp. is developing the project. (See In Fact Daily June 15, 2000. )

The City Council has already approved $3 million for the Great Streets program, which will widen the walking path on Second Street with 32-foot sidewalks. That path will include the new CSC/City Hall complex, the AMLI retail project and the new hotel before it dead-ends into the Austin Convention Center. The project will narrow car traffic on the street to one lane in each direction, according to Michael Knox of the city’s Redevelopment Services Department.

The commission’s unanimous nod was really no more than an acknowledgement of the work already being done by the hotel developer and the City of Austin. Ben Turner of Consort Inc. briefly presented the plan for the streetscape at last night’s meeting. The Hampton Inn & Suites, already seven stories high, will contain 209 rooms with a 111-space parking garage, Turner said. Jana McCann, the city’s Urban Design Officer, had approached the developer and encouraged him to participate in the Great Streets program, he said.

Turner said the cost of the project would be shared between the developer and the city. He did not have a total price on the project yet. The developer will design the widened streetscape under the agreement and the city will pay for all or part of the cost of the streetscape, including relocation of any utilities.

The Hampton Inn & Suites will be only a block from the expanded Austin Convention Center. The first three floors of the building will be limestone facie; the top stories will be the EIFS (Exterior Insulation Finish System), similar to the retail development at the southwest corner of Sixth Street and Lamar Boulevard. The three-level parking garage will include a floor of retail. The corner of San Jacinto and Second Street will be a 1,400-square-foot retail project.

Some commissioners, like Stan Haas, were hesitant to vote on the Great Streets participation because the commission has not been briefed on the project. But after some discussion of the project, the commission gave its unanimous approval to the hotel’s participation in the city project.

In other action, the Downtown Commission voted 8-1 to adopt a resolution favoring cancellation of the Rainey Street Study. Commissioner Teresa Rabago, the commission’s representative from the Historic Landmark Commission, first made a motion to adopt the HLC recommendation that the study by the ROMA Design Group go forward. (See In Fact Daily Nov. 29, 2001 .) However, she could not get a second for that motion. Both commissions had heard from Austan Librach, director of the Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department, that the study would likely be cut as part of budget-trimming measures required by a decline in sales tax revenues. Members of the Downtown Commission, except for Rabago, agreed that Rainey Street controversies need to be solved locally and that another study would be a waste of city resources.

2001 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Stepping down? . . State Rep. Glenn Maxey has scheduled a press conference for 10am today, presumably to announce his decision to retire from his seat. Maxey will benefit from a comfortable retirement package and not have to run against fellow Democratic Rep. Elliott Naishtat or move . . . Baxter resigns to run for House . . . As expected, Travis County Commissioner Todd Baxter has resigned and County Judge Sam Biscoe has put out a call for applicants to fill his Precinct 3 seat. The appointee would serve through the end of Baxter’s term through 2002 . . . Sign ordinance changes on City Council agenda . . . The Council has scheduled a 6pm public hearing on proposed changes to the city’s billboard ordinance. The ordinance has been amended twice in the past two years, but all sides believe it needs further changes. Expect a lengthy hearing, of interest mainly to the participants . . . No Brackenridge briefing today . . . City staff has pulled a scheduled briefing on Reproductive Health Services at Brack, leaving three other informational presentations on today’s agenda. The first briefing regards economic indicators and the city budget. On the environmental front, staff will discuss urban watershed protection issues related to downtown development. Finally, utility officials will discuss Holly Power Plant issues . . . Environmental Board loses Williams . . . Debra Williams, a member of the city’s Environmental Board since October 2000 has resigned effective immediately. She is moving back to Toronto to be close to her family and has accepted a job with the City of Toronto. Board Chair Lee Leffingwell said losing Williams “is a significant loss to the board.” A former city staff member, Williams always has a common sense approach to the thorny problems presented to the board. She has been working for PBS&J in Austin. Council Member Danny Thomas is looking for her replacement . . . Water contract recommended . . . The Water and Wastewater Commission has given its approval to a construction contract with Smith Contracting Co. for water improvements in areas annexed to the southwest of the city. The contract—which will be forwarded to the City Council for its approval—is for a total of $742,000 and will provide additional service to the Tanglewood, Southland and Village of Western Oaks subdivisions, as well as Maple Run.

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