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Original 1983 plan called for retirement homes

Monday, February 4, 2002 by

South Austin neighbors won a victory at the City Council last week in a rare case—the appeal of a zoning site plan. As Assistant City Attorney Marty Terry explained to the Council, site plans were once attached to zoning change requests as a condition of approval. That was changed when the regulatory scheme changed, but occasionally a developer will still face a neighborhood appeal when he changes the use of the property. Whether the use has been changed is, of course, subject to interpretation. City staff thought the use was unchanged, because the new plan is residential, just as was the plan approved in 1983.

Attorney Steve Metcalfe of Drenner Stuart Wolff Metcalfe von Kreisler argued that the new site plan was an improvement over the old one, but that the condition of approval for the SF-6 (townhouse and condominium residence) had not changed. The project, named Independence Park, was proposed for 6100 Manchaca.

Joan Hilbig, speaking on behalf of the Cherry Creek Southwest Neighborhood Association, said that in 1983, the previous developer had negotiated with neighbors to win approval of an owner-occupied retirement community. The units approved at the time would have been one and two-story homes, which neighbors thought would be compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. The new developer, CNC Investments, proposed to put 54 regular condominium units on the acreage.

Metcalfe said the new plan was superior to the previous one because it saves 1100 trees, has less impervious cover, fewer parking spaces, a 10-acre conservation easement and larger setbacks from single-family homes. He told the Council there had not been a change in the condition of approval since 1983, cited the Zoning and Platting Commission’s unanimous rejection of the neighborhood’s appeal and said the new plan would have no adverse impact on surrounding neighbors.

About 30 speakers had signed up in opposition to the new plan, but many had left or decided not to speak by the time the appeal came up after 10:30pm Thursday. However, Hilbig had time from several other speakers and made an eloquent plea for grant of the appeal. She said the traffic impact of younger, more mobile residents would be greater than the retirement community plan. She also said condominium residents might not be the homeowners that the neighborhood was promised 20 years ago.

Council Member Will Wynn made a motion to deny the appeal and Mayor Gus Garcia gave him a second. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman made a substitute motion to grant the appeal, which was seconded by Council Member Daryl Slusher. Both live in far South Austin.

Goodman discussed the South Austin Infill Study, which was done because of the impact of multi-family units and commercial properties close to single-family homes in the area. She said she agreed with Hilbig that the new use would be more intense than the previous one and that traffic would also be greater. She said that neighborhoods negotiated in good faith with the developer at the time and that the commitment made then should still be honored. “To go back on that now makes a mockery of saying neighbors are a part of the process,” she concluded.

The vote was 5-2 to uphold the appeal, with Wynn and Garcia dissenting.

Decision on eliminating frontage roads could for one week

County Commissioners finalized a letter to the Texas Department of Transportation last week protesting the elimination of frontage roads on future projects.

The elimination of frontage roads, Commissioner Margaret Moore said, needs to be elevated to a much more visible discussion. The decision, which could be finalized this month, is one that will have a serious impact on both local taxpayers and local drivers.

“This is a change in the way that Texans have always perceived and used their state highways,” Moore said after last week’s Commissioners Court meeting. “This can be one of the most significant things that has happened to us in transportation in a long time, and most people have no concept that we are talking about highways that you cannot get onto except at limited points.”

In the letter to Director Ken Bohuslav of TxDOT’s Design Division, dated January 23, Travis County asks the state to rescind the Minute Order that initiated the new policy. The state, commissioners said in the letter, needs to fully evaluate the economic and fiscal impact of the proposed policy on local governments and other local interests. The county also is concerned that the cost of access to freeways would be shifted from the state to local governments, Executive Director Joe Gieselman of Transportation and Natural Resources told the commissioners.

The county is open to working with the state to identify those corridors where the elimination of frontage roads would make sense, Gieselman said. Loop 1 and State Highway 45 are two examples of roadways where the elimination of frontage roads could make sense. Toll roads do not need frontage roads, commissioners wrote in the letter to TxDOT. The letter goes on to say that TxDOT has held out the possibility of frontage roads when resources are available, but scarce highway resources seem to indicate that funding will only be available for freeway main lanes.

Other impacts listed in the letter include decreased flexibility in emergency situations; higher traffic volumes on local roads that parallel state freeways; the need to expand the capacity of local arterials due to heavier traffic at access points; and the increase of air and noise pollution in adjacent neighborhoods.

Planning Commission will hear cases in all designated plan areas The Planning Commission (PC) and the Zoning and Platting Commission (ZAP) gathered for a joint meeting last week for a staff briefing on how the workloads of the two bodies will be divided.

The ZAP was created last year to share the workload of the Planning Commission as that body spent more and more time hearing neighborhood plans, in addition to dealing with a variety of contentious zoning cases. Although the two separate bodies have been meeting for several months, there had been some lingering questions about the exact nature of each commission’s duties, especially regarding zoning cases in areas where a neighborhood plan is pending but not fully approved.

Review by city staff, including members of the legal department, has resulted in the additional detail requested by the two commissions. As directed by the Council, the ZAP will handle zoning, site plans and other cases outside of adopted or “in process” neighborhood plans. A neighborhood plan could be considered “in process,” only after the City Council approved a resolution directing the Planning Commission to consider that plan.

A resolution passed at the January 17th Council meeting lays out timetables for several upcoming plans. Those plans for areas already in progress, including the Upper Boggy Creek, Bouldin Creek and North Loop neighborhoods, were effectively referred to the PC on January 17th. The same effective date was set for neighborhoods in the early stages of the process, including the MLK, MLK-183, Pecan Springs-Springdale, Franklin Park, McKinney and Southeast neighborhood planning areas. The Council decided to send the Gateway and North Burnet neighborhood plans to the PC on January 31st, while the plans for the Govalle and Johnson Terrace will go to the PC effective February 13th.

ZAP Chair Betty Baker was concerned that that the drawn-out nature of the neighborhood planning process would interfere with routine zoning cases. “When a zoning case is filed, assuming a neighborhood plan is pending, the requirement for action on that case is six months,” Baker said. “What if the neighborhood plan is taking longer?”

Greg Guernsey a manager in Neighborhood Planning and Zoning told Baker that the case would remain active with the commission where it was originally filed independent of the progress of the neighborhood plan. “We have zoning cases that go far beyond six months sometimes, because they’re very complicated,” Guernsey said. “I think Council is relying on both commissions to act in a timely manner to the best of their ability.” If a case does expire, Guernsey said, it would have to be resubmitted to the appropriate commission.

Planning Commission Member Dave Sullivan sought to reassure Baker that his group would hear cases within the allotted time frame. A zoning case filed in an area with a pending neighborhood plan, Sullivan said, would follow normal procedures. “It would appear on our agenda. The applicant would make his pleas, and we would vote up or down or decide to postpone,” Sullivan said. “Under the neighborhood planning process we would have a more organized session, because three or four staff members have been working on the neighborhood plan and will know how a change would affect the neighborhood plan, even though the plan is just prospective at that point.”

Planning Commission Chair Ben Heimsath said the request for clarification from staff should not be interpreted as a turf battle. “Some have interpreted the clarification of jurisdiction as somehow an indication that there are difficulties between the two commissions and that is not really what is happening,” Heimsath said. “I don’t think there’s any desire on the Planning Commission’s part to start picking up cases any sooner than we have to. We’ve got a lot of fish to fry.” But the briefing session was necessary, Heimsath said, because of the complexities of the division of the two groups.

Tuesday Wednesday, Thursday,

Friday

Third executive assistant hired . . . Joining the Mayor’s office soon will be Adana Barry, who was an aide to former Council Member Willie Lewis. She is currently serving in the Neighborhood Housing and Planning Department. Barry will join executive assistants Paul Saldaña and Adam Smith. The trio will share the big office, which used to be reserved for the Mayor before Mayor Gus Garcia decided the new space arrangements . . . That water deal . . . Myron Hess of the National Wildlife Federation will analyze the LCRA/ San Antonio water deal tonight at 7:30pm for members of the Save Barton Creek Association. As usual, the meeting will be at the Filling Station, 801 Barton Springs Road . . . Yeller Dawgs to celebrate . . . South Austin Democrats will honor longtime Yeller Dawgs Shudde Fath, Lucille Timberlake and Walter Timberlake Tuesday night at the Texas AFL-CIO, 1101 Lavaca. The party runs from 5:30pm to 8pm . . . Spring Break v. Primary . . . Local school districts have cleverly scheduled Spring Break during the same week as the Democratic and Republican primaries. Spring Break is March 11-15. Early voting for the March 12 primary begins Feb. 25 and ends March 8. The deadline for registering voters for the primary is Feb. 11, one week from today.

© 2002 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

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