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Further report on zoning and opinions offered to Council

Thursday, June 20, 2002 by

The City Council will receive an extensive report from the Zoning and Planning Commission on its recommendation for 14 tracts owned by Stratus Properties. And while some commissioners may be satisfied to have put the case behind them after months of review, their numerous changes and suggested limitations have failed to find favor with some Southwest Austin residents.

“While some will argue that these changes represent minimal modifications, as a means of addressing specific concerns raised by the neighborhood these changes are significant,” said Commissioner Keith Jackson. “In general, we reached agreement on larger setbacks protecting existing single-family homes.”

The Circle C Homeowners Association (CCHOA) was one of the few neighborhood groups that stood up to support the zoning changes. Members of the CCHOA told commissioners they had been satisfied after two years of dealing with Stratus that their interests would be protected. “One of the biggest things from the homeowners’ standpoint was the innovative way that the city staff and Stratus were able to craft an agreement to help protect everybody,” said CCHOA member Steve Bartlett. “Some of those items are in the zoning, some are in separate agreements.” Circle C resident Ken Rigsbee agreed. “I have had personal involvement for a period of two years . . . Although for about a year and eleven months I was opposed to it, I have now reached the point that, given the conditions that we have . . . I believe that the proposed solution is about as good as we can have for the people of the City of Austin.” The CCHOA was able to strike several independent agreements with Stratus to provide extra protection for the group, including the creation of an Architecture Review Panel for commercial development. At least one member of the CCHOA will serve on that panel.

Other neighborhood groups, which did not engage in as much discussion with Stratus, were less enthusiastic about the zoning changes. Circle C resident Amy Rupp, who heads the Circle C Neighborhood Association, has been one of the most vocal critics of the zoning changes. Rupp’s organization is separate from the CCHOA. She blasted commissioners for voting on the 14 tracts and the city’s proposed settlement with Stratus. “I do not think you have had adequate time to review an up-to-date term sheet, or the freedom to act as an independent body, as you would in a case without a term sheet,” she said. “For the neighborhoods that surround us that haven’t had a voice . . . who haven’t had concessions like the CCHOA has been able to obtain . . . I recommend that you not permit this zoning.”

John Larkin of the Cherry Creek on Brodie Neighborhood Association also pointed to the other southwest groups that had not been included in the initial discussions with Stratus before the case came to the ZAP. “The New Village of Western Oaks is against this. Tanglewood Forest . . . Texas Oaks South . . is against this deal,” he said. “The overriding reason is that we don’t have a comprehensive neighborhood plan in place and we see our rights as local businesses, homeowners and renters being usurped by this type of deal.”

The long-running case has generated intense feelings on both sides, with commissioners caught in the middle as they tried to sort through volumes of information on the 14 cases, plus conflicting claims from the numerous attorneys involved. Commission Chair Betty Baker said commissioners had been personally vilified in some e-mails from opponents of the zoning change. “I don’t think I have ever received such volatile and insulting e-mails in my life,” Baker said. “This isn’t fair. This commission is attempting to treat this objectively. We’re attempting to study all the information we can, and for these citizens to insult a city-appointed Board or Commission to me is intolerable.”

Some of those e-mails were mistakenly routed to Dora Anguiano, who is the staff person for the commission, but she said she did not feel that any were abusive. Anguiano was mistakenly listed as a commissioner in an e-mail sent out by the Save Our Springs Alliance. One sample e-mail from Hays County resident Nancy Weaver focused on the impact development in the area would have on existing residents. “Please help slow the invasive, commuter driven sprawl that is destroying the rural nature of southern Travis and northern Hays County by voting against any increased density by Stratus Properties,” she wrote. “Taxes have soared to help provide school, police, fire and road infrastructure for the newcomers. It is time to recognize the ‘you can’t stop growth’ lie for what it its.”

Commissioner Michael Casias said some e-mails he had received had urged him to take action that was not allowed by the commission. “I’m not here to change the zoning laws,” he said, adding that there are several aspects of zoning policy with which he is personally dissatisfied. “My job is only to make a recommendation to City Council based on compliance with the current zoning laws.”

Stratus zoning by tract as recommended by ZAP

Here is a tract-by-tract breakdown of the zoning changesand accompanying restrictions recommended by the ZAP.

Tract 101 – GR-MU-CO Northeast corner of West Slaughter Lane and FM 1826

The site is being considered by AISD for a middle school. Commissioners recommended a height limit on buildings of 40 feet, with a provision allowing a height of 60 feet for a gymnasium or auditorium associated with a public secondary education facility. No retail would be permitted within 500 feet of single-family lots along the east property line. Any multi-family development on the site would be limited to MF-3 density. Access to Allerton Drive would also be limited.

Tract 102 – CS-MU-CP South side of West Slaughter Lane about 1,200 feet east of FM 1826

The site is being considered for a “mini-warehouse” storage facility. The height limit on that use would be 45 feet, with a limit of 40 feet for all other uses. A truck-rental facility accompanying the storage facility would be prohibited.

Tract 103 – LR-MU-CO North of West Slaughter Lane at Escarpment Blvd.

The conditional overlay would prohibit automotive-related uses, pawn shops, a drop-off recycling facility, and a service station. There is an underground pipeline for petroleum products running through the tract, and the Commission voted to prohibit multi-family development between Slaughter Lane and that pipeline.

Tracts 104 and 105 – RR-CO Southwest and southeast corners of West Slaughter Lane and Escarpment Blvd.

These tracts would be preserved as open space. There is currently a monument on one tract, but they would otherwise remain undeveloped.

Tract 106 – GR-CO Northwest corner of West Slaughter Land and South MoPac

This is one of two tracts on which a gas station could be built. The conditional overlay would prohibit automotive repair and auto sales, and the height of buildings on the tract would be limited to 40 feet. Under the agreement, a gas station could be built either on this tract or on tract 114 – but not both. (This tract is over the recharge zone. The Environmental Board recommended no service stations on any of the Stratus tracts, but Stratus disagrees with this recommendation.)

Tract 107 – GR-CO Southwest corner of West Slaughter Lane and Escarpment Blvd.

The conditional overlay would expressly prohibit a service station. Commissioners also voted to exclude restaurant or fast-food uses on the site.

Tract 108 – GR-MU-CO

Northwest corner of West Slaughter Lane and Brodie Lane

This tract is the close to the Cherry Creek on Brodie Neighborhood Association. The MU component of the zoning would allow multi-family development, but Commissioners recommended that it be limited to MF-3 density. Any retail lease spaces would be limited to 35,000 square feet.

Tract 109 – RR

West of Dahlgreen Ave. and south of La Crosse Blvd.

This irregularly-shaped tract would remain undeveloped and be dedicated to the Circle C Homeowners Association.

Tract 110 – CS-MU-CO and GR-MU-CO West of MoPac and north of SH 45 with frontage on both roadways

This 246-acre tract is the largest of the 14 tracts and Commissioners placed a host of restrictions and conditions on their recommendation. It had originally been recommended by staff for CH-PDA zoning, but that recommendation was revised. On most of the tract, building heights would be limited to either 35 or 40 feet. However there was one portion of the tract on which a building height of 60 feet would be allowed. Although the MU portion of the zoning would allow multi-family development, the Commission recommended strict limits on any multi-family on the site. The size of leased spaces would be limited on part of the tract, and commissioners voted to prohibit access to the tract from Dahlgreen.

Tracts 111, 112, and 113 – RR The southeast corner of La Crosse Ave. and S. MoPac, north of Wyldwood Drive, and west of S. MoPac approximately 4/5 of a mile south of La Crosse Ave.

These tracts would remain undeveloped and be deeded to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Tract 114 – GR-CO At the northeast corner of SH 45 and FM 1826

One of two tracts on which a service station would be permitted. See Tract 106. The conditional overlay would prohibit auto repair, rental, sales, or automotive washing. Building heights would be limited to 40 feet and retail lease spaces would be limited to 35,000 square feet.

Preserving east-west access,

public restrooms, important to group

Last night the Downtown Commission voted to support the central business district transportation proposals that city staff has drawn up to enhance pedestrian access to downtown. But the group also added some recommendations of their own.

While there has been considerable discussion about turning Cesar Chavez into a “grand, two-way, lakefront boulevard,” city staff has set no time frame for doing so. Members of the commission voted to endorse a proposal to realign Cesar Chavez within the next five to ten years. One source of concern for Commissioners Robert Knight, Bruce Willenzik and Tim Finley was the nine-minute delay the change is anticipated to create. Willenzik, who owns the popular Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, asked, “How many generations of retailers have to go broke” before planners realize that downtown retail cannot prosper without “effective access and mobility.” He joined Knight in offering some changes to the proposed resolution. Knight said he could vote for making Cesar Chavez two-way if it were coupled with keeping Riverside Drive as a viable east-west thoroughfare.

Knight said, “There’s not a polite word,” for his thoughts on the nine-minute delay. Beth Ann Sprengel of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce said her organization would be meeting with city staff on July 1 to get more information on the cost of the various traffic changes. She also said they needed to know what factors would be used “to deem this a failure or a success.” She abstained on the final vote. The Chamber has not yet taken a position on the proposals, but the Downtown Austin Alliance supports them. On the other hand, the Real Estate Council of Austin is opposed. (See In Fact Daily, June 3, 2002.)

In addition to the Cesar Chavez recommendation, the commission proposed the following:

• Efforts should be made to identify suitable locations for public restroom facilities on public property along downtown streets, particularly in areas of high pedestrian traffic.

• Musicians’ loading and unloading needs should be considered in relation to the allocation of street space along East Sixth Street.

• All planning of street space along 2nd Street should include extensive input from retail experts.

• Further study of Guadalupe and Lavaca is warranted to move toward placing bicycle routes in the city’s Bicycle Plan.

• Strategies should be developed to improve western access to downtown.

Austan Librach, director of Transportation, Planning & Sustainability, told In Fact Daily that there is no reason to keep studying bike lanes on Guadalupe and Lavaca, since they are already a part of the city’s Bicycle Plan. He emphasized that staff has not rejected the bike proposal and has added the Lance Armstrong Bikeway to the near-term downtown transportation proposals. The bikeway, which is in its preliminary design stage, will provide a route from West Austin through downtown to the US 183 bridge. It is currently planned along 3rd, 4th and 5th Streets. There is a public hearing on the preliminary route at 7 p.m. tonight at One Texas Center in the Third Floor Conference Room.

To view the downtown transportation proposals, click here: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/downtown/cbdtran.htm.

Thursday,.

Nanotechnology and eggs . . . The Downtown Austin Alliance is holding an Issues & Eggs meeting at 7:30am today at ACC’s Downtown Education Center, 211 E. 7th St, First Floor, Room 111. Kelly Kordzik of Winstead Sechrest & Minick will talk about what nanotechnology could mean for downtown Austin. The specific subject is patent applications and technology-related agreements . . . Watson party tonight . . . Former Mayor Kirk Watson is hosting a fundraiser tonight from 5:30 to 7:30pm at the Four Season Hotel. Watson, who is the Democratic nominee for Texas Attorney General, was shown receiving 24 percent of the vote to Republican Greg Abbott’s 30 percent in a recent Texas poll, with 46 percent undecided. A fairly generous margin of error is assumed . . . Downtown Commission delays comment . . . The Downtown Commission decided last night to table until August any recommendations on the Downtown Design Guidelines. That will give the Design Commission’s subcommittee a chance to offer specific recommendations for improving the staff proposal. Like the Design Commission, the Downtown Commission expressed reservations about codifying the guidelines. Katie Larsen of the Transportation Planning & Sustainability Department told In Fact Daily that the delay would cause no problems for staff. Larsen is expecting a child in August, but said she would be back to work in September to present recommendations from all the other boards to the Planning Commission. After that, the final recommendations will go to the City Council . . . Realtors tired of Green . . . The Quorum Report reported yesterday that the Texas Association of Realtors has endorsed Democrat Patrick Rose of Dripping Springs for state representative in House District 45. The online newsletter said Realtors are angry at Rick Green (R-Dripping Springs) because he introduced legislation that would have added an 8 percent tax to all real estate transactions.

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

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