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Jockey Club tract could be

Tuesday, August 6, 2002 by

Caught in commission Catch-22

ZAP to decide tonight whether to hear zoning question

Tonight members of the Zoning and Platting Commission (ZAP) will once again look at whether they should consider a requested zoning change for the Austin Jockey Club tract at 7300 Riverside Drive., The case was postponed last week because of questions over which commission should hear the case.

The case was initiated before the split of the Zoning and Platting Commission and the Planning Commission last September. Under the guidelines set out by the City Council, the Planning Commission hears cases that are in areas with adopted neighborhood plans. The Montopolis Neighborhood Plan was approved last year (see In Fact Daily, Sept. 28, 2001 ), but the Jockey Club tract was specifically deleted from the plan before it was passed.

Assistant City Attorney Deborah Thomas told ZAP commissioners that they were the appropriate body to hear the case, but that it could then be referred to the Planning Commission for further review. “The ZAP is the land use commission for this case,” Thomas said. “The problem is that there is a possibility that the zoning could be contrary to the neighborhood plan. That would mean that it would go to the Planning Commission.” Although the tract was not rezoned when the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan was approved, the plan did include a future land use map establishing neighborhood preferences. Part of the applicant’s requested change conflicts with that map. If the ZAP Commission granted that zoning change request, it would trigger the requirement for the case to go to the Planning Commission.

The prospect of doubling the burden on the applicant, along with sending the City Council two differing recommendations, didn’t sit well with ZAP Chair Betty Baker. “Personally, I’m unwilling to have an applicant stand before this commission, make a presentation, get voted up or down . . . and then have to go to the Planning Commission and repeat that presentation,” she said. “I’m not inclined to have this commission and the Planning Commission differing and battling over an area. That bothers me immensely. I don’t want to go to Council and say, ‘This is ZAP’s recommendation and it’s better than Planning Commission’s.’ I don’t want to do that.”

City staff then came up with an alternate recommendation that is consistent with the future land use map adopted by the neighborhood, which the ZAP could choose to approve. The tract, which property owners T.C. and Robert Steiner had originally proposed as the site of a horse-racing track (see In Fact Daily, May 02, 2001 ), is now proposed as a mixture of apartments and commercial development. The applicants are seeking MF-3-NP on two tracts and CS-NP on a third. Staff is instead recommending SF-6-CO-NP on the first tract, MF-3-CO-NP and GO-CO-NP on the second and CS-CO-NP on the third. That would result in the addition of town homes and office space. John Joseph, Jr., the Steiners’ representative, told staff that his clients do not agree with their recommendations of SF-6 instead of MF-3, or the recommendation to have part of one tract zoned GO-CO-NP.

Commissioners decided to continue the case until this week to give the city legal staff extra time to review the rules regarding which commission should have priority.

Chair tells applicant to rearrange sign with current height

On Monday night, the Sign Review Board refused to allow a variance for a sign at 5440 US 290 West, telling the agent that the owner of the sign could easily accomplish his goal without raising the sign beyond the permitted limit.

The sign displays the names of businesses in a shopping center on US 290 West. Several business owners submitted letters to the board detailing how road construction in the area had reduced the visibility of the sign, which plays an important role in attracting new customers. “As the construction of a high-rise freeway works to ease the traffic for a lot of people, it has also made our location virtually invisible,” wrote Steve Thompson of Thompson Insurance. “As you drive along Highway 290 West, you will notice that most of the signage has been adjusted to work with the high rise of the highway. I trust that ours will as well.”

The businesses were represented before the Sign Review Board by Charles Kernion of Signworks MFG., who requested permission to raise the sign from its current level of approximately 30 feet to 40 feet to improve its visibility from the freeway. Other signs in the area, he said, were already 40 feet tall.

Board Chair Herman Thun rejected Kernion’s claims that the businesses were facing a special hardship and deserved a variance. “What concerns me is the one-upsmanship that can happen,” Thun said. “Someone goes up to 40 feet, and I can already see that you’re hiding someone else’s sign when you go up to 40, so that person is going to be interested in some kind of activity. It just seems like there’s a plethora of signs of all sizes and types through there. I question whether getting this thing up to 40 feet is actually going to do anything for you that 35 feet wouldn’t do, or a re-work of the sign.”

Thun moved to reject the variance request, and the vote in support of that motion was unanimous. He told Kernion that it would be possible to improve the sign’s visibility while still following city rules and regulations. “I would recommend that you take a look at 35 feet; I think it will work for you,” he said. “I think it will accomplish what the owner desires on that site. You just need to rearrange the sign a bit.”

Assistance offered in lawsuit . . . The Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) voted last night to participate as a friend of the court in the suit filed by the Save Our Springs Alliance against Stratus Properties and the City of Austin. The SOS Alliance is asking the court to declare that HB 1704 does not apply to the SOS Ordinance. Such a declaration would render the law toothless in Austin’s jurisdiction. SBCA at one point voted to join the suit as a plaintiff, but withdrew the following day. (See In Fact Daily June 25, June 26, July 16, 2002 .) The group resolved also to “participate in a community-wide effort to arrest and reverse the degradation of Barton Springs, by insuring that all new development in the watershed does not contribute to pollution . . . (and supports) retrofit projects,” and also by acquiring additional land . . . (See In Fact Daily June 25, June 26, July 16, 2002 .) The group resolved also to “participate in a community-wide effort to arrest and reverse the degradation of Barton Springs, by insuring that all new development in the watershed does not contribute to pollution . . . (and supports) retrofit projects,” and also by acquiring additional land . . . Fath volunteers for treasurer . . . One of Austin’s most senior environmentalists, Shudde Fath, has volunteered to be treasurer of a Buy Stratus Land fund. Last night, the Save Barton Creek Association (SBCA) approved Fath’s request to “serve as a bridge to hold donated funds until the City Council authorizes” its own Buy Stratus Land fund. Fath has been treasurer of SBCA for more than 20 years. She said the fund would be used to purchase all or part of the 246-acre tract along MoPac that is designated to become commercial office space. Council Member Daryl Slusher will interview Fath on his regular TV show at 1:30pm today . . . Truckers watch out! . . . Mayor Gus Garcia’s assistant, Paul Saldaña, said yesterday his boss is sponsoring a resolution on this week’s City Council agenda to move heavy trucks out of the far left lane of I-35. He said Georgetown and Round Rock have already passed such resolutions, which must be forwarded to TxDOT for approval and implementation. Saldaña said Houston has enacted a similar measure, resulting in a dramatic decrease in traffic deaths on I-10. He said the change could be expected to occur about 6 months after the Council acts . . . Oops . . . When the City Council approved the sale of alcoholic beverages at Juan in a Million last week, it was Council Member Betty Dunkerley, not Council Member Raul Alvarez, who made the motion. However, Alvarez did speak in support of the motion, which some of his supporters opposed . . . Zoning and Platting Commission tonight . . . The ZAP is scheduled to elect officers tonight, along with its regular agenda. Although Melissa Whaley will join the commission tonight, there will still be only seven members, since replacements for Niyanta Spelman and Michael Casias —who were appointed to the Planning Commission—have not yet been named. Jean Mather is no longer on the ZAP, but has been appointed to the Historic Landmark Commission.

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

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