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Council skips controversial

Monday, June 16, 2003 by

Design rules for downtown

No drive-through, FAR and retail window regs just recommendations The City Council last week sided with the Downtown Austin Alliance (DAA) and developers who want a more moderate approach to turning design guidelines into law by excluding several recommendations that might make it more difficult or costly to build or redevelop downtown.

The guidelines, established in 1997, were intended to improve design in the downtown commercial districts and offer a more “livable” place for downtown residents. Of the 69 guidelines and scores of recommendations, city staff singled out 13 to be considered as law. A year of review by boards, commissions and interested parties produced a variety of recommendations for which to codify and which to leave as guidelines.

The Council voted unanimously 5-0 to codify eight and leave five to stand as guidelines (with Mayor Gus Garcia absent and Mayor Pro-Tem Jackie Goodman off the dais).

Codified were:

• Waiving annual fees for pedestrian overhead cover in the street right-of-way. Historic buildings have already been exempted. The revised recommendation includes a fee waiver for roof drains.

• Screening the view of equipment and other accessory items. The screening would include street-level trash bins and loading areas, as well as HVAC equipment on roofs.

• Requiring a Green Building rating of at least one star—which was not considered onerous.

• Screening views of autos in parking structures and on surface parking lots. Parking structures would be required to obscure sight of cars so headlights are not visible from adjacent buildings or street right-of-way. Landscaping is required for surface parking.

• Establishing 10-foot maximum front and street-side building setbacks. The revised staff recommendation has doubled the setback from 5 feet to 10 feet, with an additional provision that no parking be located within the front or street side.

• Adding historic Wooldridge Square to the Downtown Parks Overlay District.

• Orienting building entries toward the remaining historic squares. The original proposal was that the main entrance must face the square; now it can be any entrance to the building. A revision to the guideline deletes the requirement for buildings on parcels oriented catty-corner to squares.

• Clarifying the “clear and lightly tinted glass” definition by specifying a Visible Transmittance Rating of .6 or higher. The requirement primarily affects Congress Avenue and East Sixth/Pecan Street.

Remaining as guidelines are:

• No drive-in services. The city will require, however, that the businesses have some services to pedestrians at street level. A single curb cut cannot exceed the maximum width of 30 feet.

• No service stations. Businesses think market forces will minimize service stations.

• Establishing floor-to-area ratios for the Central Business District and Downtown Mixed Use zoning categories outside the historic district. The suggested minimum FAR is 3-to-1 in CBD zoning districts and 2-to-1 FAR in DMU zoning districts.

• Street-level secondary spaces should be convertible to other future uses.

• Street-facing windows should predominate on both first and second floors.

The results followed the desires of the DAA. They also were almost in line with final staff recommendations from the Transportation, Planning and Sustainability Department. However, TPSD recommended codifying the secondary spaces and street-facing window guidelines.

Council OKs S. Lamar zoning Change after lengthy discussion

Real issue involves proposed changes to lot next door While the City Council debated a seemingly minor zoning change to allow parking to continue at a potential restaurant site on South Lamar and Bluebonnet Lane, a sleeping giant of a discussion loomed in the background with the potential for a new Walgreen Drug Store on the lot next door.

The lot in question Thursday was the former Amy’s Toy Depot at 2403 South Lamar, which was zoned properly for commercial use, but had an adjoining lot illegal for parking with SF-3 residential zoning. The lack of parking makes the building essentially unusable; so the owner, W.O. Harper, is asking for GR-CO zoning to allow parking and potential expansion of the building for a restaurant. However, also in the equation would be purchase of all the property and demolition of the building, all for use as parking for a Walgreen’s proposed for a lot to the southeast.

Sarah Crocker, agent for the owner, said the Walgreen’s scenario was still iffy, and she wanted a decision to allow some kind of use for the building in question. “If Walgreen’s comes or Walgreen’s goes, we still face the issue that we can’t use the building because the parking lot is zoned SF-3,” she said.

The Council approved a second reading of an ordinance allowing GR-CO for the property in question, but several Council members wanted staff to research parking issues to see if a lower intensity zoning would appease neighbors while still allowing the owner to use the property for a restaurant.

Several South Austin neighborhood association representatives opposed the zoning changes. While enthusiastic about the idea of a small restaurant, many neighbors still fear that changing the zoning from SF-3 could cause a domino effect by expanding commercial uses down Bluebonnet Lane.

The Zoning and Platting Commission and staff recommended the GR-CO, although the commission imposed restrictions on several uses and imposed a limitation of 715 trips per day for the site.

Slusher said he had concerns about the Walgreen’s case, which has not been scheduled for a Council hearing. But he added that that case could be studied independently while still allowing the owner of the lot to have a use for his building. The parking lot case will be heard for third reading when the Council returns from summer vacation on July 17.

ZAP recommends zoning change for Walgreen's

On Tuesday, the Zoning and Platting Commission voted in favor of a zoning change for the property next door . The change, if approved by Council, would allow construction of a new Walgreen’s drugstore with drive-through prescription service. The decision came over the objections of nearby residents and members of the South Lamar Neighborhood Association (SLNA), who argued that allowing a 24-hour store at the intersection of South Lamar and Bluebonnet Lane would lead to a dangerous increase in traffic, especially on Bluebonnet. The applicant is seeking access to the lot from both Lamar and Bluebonnet, and would be required to make improvements to Bluebonnet if the city granted the zoning.

“We have 75 students that live in that area that take that street (Bluebonnet) over to Zilker Elementary . . . my son is one of them,” said neighborhood member Bryan King. “Realtors often mention three things. For neighborhoods it’s three things, too: traffic, traffic, traffic,” said King. “This street is not set up for it.” While Bluebonnet Lane is classified as a residential collector, neighbors said it was not sufficiently maintained and in need of repair. They told commissioners that another business in the area, especially one with a drive-through window, would create more problems. “We have heard several comments from city staff that South Lamar is already commercially over-zoned,” said Marcy Roberts of the SLNA. “So in some way, it doesn’t make sense to turn over any more residentially zoned property to commercial property.”

The tract is approximately 4 acres, but the zoning change will apply to just over 1 acre. The rest of the land will be left in its current zoning of SF-3. However, for construction of the new store to proceed it would require the removal of the mobile home park currently occupying the entire site. ZAP Commissioner Clarke Hammond wanted to know from consultant Sarah Crocker what would happen to the current residents. “Everyone is on a month-to-month lease,” Crocker said. “They’ve all been on notice that the property is for sale. If we go forward with our development we will give them more than adequate notice. They will be given almost a year to relocate.”

Commissioner Keith Jackson suggested that the commission approve the LR-CO for 1.301 acres of the tract as recommended by city staff, allowing for access from both Lamar and Bluebonnet. Commissioner John-Michael Cortez moved to prohibit access from Bluebonnet in an attempt to alleviate some of the concerns of neighborhood groups, but only Commissioner Hammond agreed with him and that motion failed on a vote of 2-6. The vote on Jackson’s motion then passed on a vote of 8-0, with Commission Vice chair Joseph Martinez absent.

©2003 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Inauguration . . . The City Council will meet at 6pm tonight to administer the oath of office to Mayor-elect Will Wynn and new Council Member Brewster McCracken, as well as re-elected Council Members Raul Alvarez and Danny Thomas. They will meet at 6pm in Palmer Auditorium, Rooms 1-5. The Council will also elect a Mayor Pro Tem. It seems unlikely that the honor will go to anyone other than the current Mayor Pro Tem, Jackie Goodman, since she has the most seniority on the Council . . . Joining McCracken . . . Campaign manger Matt Curtis and volunteer coordinator Karen Gross will serve as executive assistants to McCracken, who said the two will divide administrative responsibilities as well. McCracken, a member of the law firm of DuBois Bryant Campbell & Schwartz, said he would devote 25 hours a week to the firm. But he will be working overtime to catch up on matters such as the city budget . . . Party night . . . McCracken will host a party at the Jalisco Bar & Grill right across the street from Palmer Auditorium, from 4:30-5:45pm. Mayor Will Wynn and his wife, Anne Elizabeth, are hosting a party after the ceremony at La Zona Rosa with musical entertainment by the Derailers . . . EUC meeting postponed . . . The regular meeting of the Electric Utility Commission has been postponed one week, to June 23. According to the city’s web site, the Arts Commission is still meeting at 6:30pm at the Dougherty Arts Center . . . Holly Plan almost done . . . The City Council Thursday tidied up numerous land use amendments and zoning changes needed for a final version of the Holly Neighborhood Plan on Thursday. But with Mayor Gus Garcia leaving his last meeting early, a team of Mayor Pro-Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Raul Alvarez halted final approval for several items that needed six votes to pass. Alvarez wanted to retain fewer industrial uses in some cases, including a slightly more restrictive list of uses that mirrored the Govalle-Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Plan on some properties. Mayor-elect Will Wynn and Council Members Betty Dunkerley, Danny Thomas and Daryl Slusher stuck together for recommendations that often followed those of city staff and the Holly Neighborhood Planning Team. A last minute vote did clear up one contentious case after Balcones Recycling came to an agreement with the city on uses allowed. The Council approved an LI-CO-NP zoning for the Balcones land with uses recommended by the Neighborhood Planning Team.

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