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'Jockey Tract' owner asks for single-family zoning

Monday, March 1, 2004 by

Airport Overlay zone presents possible obstacle to change on one tract

The owner of the property once dubbed the ‘Jockey Tract’ in the Montopolis Neighborhood has a new proposal for the site at 7300 Riverside Drive. Instead of developing the 86 acres with a mixture of commercial and residential buildings, owner Robert Steiner has lined up a company interested in building all single-family homes. That would require a zoning change on four of the five tracts. City staff and the Planning Commission have endorsed the request for SF-4A zoning on three of those tracts. The Commission is asking Steiner to work with the neighborhood on plans for the remaining 17-acre tract, and to outline in greater detail the steps that could be taken to protect future residents from noise and the impact of a nearby industrial facility.

Staff recommended against residential zoning on that tract because it lies within the third Airport Overlay Zone surrounding Austin Bergstrom International Airport, (see In Fact Daily, July 18, 2001). Land near the airport is divided into three separate zones with limits on different types of uses. Planners hope to avoid the situation that developed at the old Robert Mueller Airport. Over time, homes were built underneath the flight path of the airport, subjecting the residents to the noise of frequent jet aircraft departures and landings.

“The purpose of the ordinance is to protect the public investment in the airport by recognizing its need to expand and to likewise protect neighborhoods from the adverse effects of the airport, namely noise,” according to city planner Annick Beaudet. “In zone 3, new residential construction is prohibited unless certain criteria are met.” Even if those criteria are met, noise mitigation measures are required, she said. “While this tract does meet the criteria for exemption, it’s still our policy not to recommend housing in the AO-3 zone.” She cited a Memorandum of Understanding between the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, the Aviation Department, and the Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department outlining the staff’s opposition to new residential construction even if it complies with the exceptions outlined in the Airport Overlay ordinance.

Assistant City Attorney David Patterson, who helped draft the Airport Overlay ordinance, took the same position. “These people will still be subjected to the same effects as in other portions of the AO-3 zone,” he said, describing the living conditions of future residents of the tract. “They’re still going to have aircraft noise…the problem is only going to increase. Montopolis is essentially directly in line with the northern end of the main runway of the airport. Ultimately it’s going to be a source of problems for the City Council and the airport as people who live there will be complaining over the foreseeable future.”

In addition to the tract’s proximity to the airport, staff also pointed to a nearby industrial use as a reason to deny single-family zoning. The tract is near a manufactured housing facility that is classified on the future land-use map as a continuing industrial use. “Putting single-family housing here is creating the situation that we’ve been trying to clean up in neighborhood planning for the past five years…industrial zoning and use next to single-family,” said Beaudet. “We just saw that as being something that will have to cleaned up 20 years from now.”

But agent John Joseph, Jr. told commissioners that perceived compatibility problem was easily solvable. “You can create a buffer, build a fence, vegetate, or run parking there. You can screen that transition,” said. “That’s typical, that’s standard, that’s accepted. That’s a non-issue, provided our developer is willing to do that and he is.” Joseph also pointed out that the Airport Overlay ordinance had specifically been written to allow housing in the AO-3 zone under certain conditions, which the developer, Centex Homes, was willing to meet. “This was drafted after many, many hundreds of hours of research to come up with something that would be adopted into our code to ensure health, safety, and welfare. For staff to sit here and say constructing and developing in accordance with the parameters they have established after hours and hours of research is adverse to health, safety, and welfare is crazy,” he said. “And it means that the code is adverse to health, safety, and welfare. We are in compliance with the code because my client and the buyer has agreed to develop in accordance with these rules and regulations.” In addition to requiring sound-proofing to mitigate the impact of noise from the airport, the ordinance also allows residential development in areas within neighborhood plans that were adopted prior to Dec. 31, 2001. “Technically…properties within this planning area are exempt from the Aviation Ordinance,” Sonya Lopez of NPDZ told Commissioners. “However, at the time this plan was created, consideration by the planning team was made for the fact that this portion of the property lies within the Airport Overlay zone and that’s why it was adopted with a commercial land use designation.”

The commission voted unanimously to endorse zoning changes on three of the five tracts in question. If the City Council grants approval, the zonings on those tracts will change from SF-6-CO-NP, MF-3-CO-NP, and CS-MU-NP to SF-4A. On the fifth tract, staff had recommended against changing the zoning from CS-MU-NP and the applicant agreed. That leaves only tract three, currently zoned CS-CO-NP, still in dispute. The Commission asked the applicant to appear at the March 23 meeting with additional details on ways to mitigate the airport noise and the impact of the manufactured housing facility. While Commissioners Niyanta Spelman and Dave Sullivan indicated they were skeptical of the possibility of any residential use on the site, other members of the commission indicated they would be inclined to support single-family housing there. “At the time we worked through the Airport Overlay, we figured out that we had all these considerations on the table, and we were thinking through them carefully. What we came up with was something that would actually allow housing on this site, provided that it’s done in the right way,” said Commissioner Chris Riley. “That was the decision that was made then. It seems like if the developer was taking the city up on that, then it doesn’t seem right for us to say ‘no’. I think that the decision back then ought to be respected.” The City Council is scheduled to consider zoning on the three tracts on which staff and the commission supported the change this week. The remaining tract will be scheduled for the Planning Commission’s March 23 meeting and for the City Council’s consideration on April 1.

Parks Board recommends changes for Lake Austin

City may have to consider raising boat launch fees to match county

The Parks and Recreation Board has approved a new navigation control map on Lake Austin, changing wake zones and danger buoys along the 20-mile route between the Tom Miller and the Mansfield dams.

Board Member Clint Small told his colleagues last week that the navigation map was a year in the making. Parks Department employee Randy Scott presented an overview of the map to commissioners. The changes that will be made along the winding channel include:

• Removing a danger buoy at the mouth of Bull Creek.

• Creating a “no wake” zone at the Austin Marina gas pumps.

• Establishing a “danger zone” at Taylor Slew with a danger buoy.

• Putting up a “no wake” zone at the Ski Shores Restaurant and Marina.

• Replacing a danger buoy with a “keep out” sign in the swim area of Emma Long Park.

• Posting a “no wake” sign at the Pier Restaurant.

• Posting a “keep out” sign at the water intake area of Emma Long Park.

• Removing a “no wake” buoy in Harrison Hollow.

The Parks and Recreation Department would also add mile markers down the center of the channel. Those mile markers will make it easier to locate disabled watercraft, Scott said. According to Scott, the mile marker information would be transferred to the Austin Police Department, which can use global positioning systems to pinpoint locations for towboats and possibly StarFlight helicopters.

Patrols by the city’s Parks Police Department will likely be extended beyond midnight, especially during the busy summer months.

Small also noted that the city may be seeing increased boat traffic this summer. Lake Austin only has two launch locations. One, at the Loop 360 Bridge, is run by Travis County. The other, at the Walsh Tarleton Landing, is run by the city. Recently, county officials decided to increase boat-launching fees. Small predicted the fee increase would put pressure on the city to do the same.

The city might need to consider revising its own free structure to keep up with what is anticipated to be increased boat traffic, Small said. He also suggested expanding the “no wake” zoning around the Loop 360 Bridge in order to handle the potential increase in boat launches.

Question of the week . . . Will Mayor Will Wynn play risqué music videos at this week’s meeting in an attempt to embarrass his City Council colleagues into canceling the contract between the city and the Austin Music Network? Wynn and Council Member Brewster McCracken have an item on the agenda that says only, “Approve a resolution regarding the management services contract of the Austin Music Network.” That means cancel the contract. McCracken said Sunday that he is cosponsoring the resolution because, “I just don’t believe the Austin Music Network is worth the dollars we spend. If the music network were working I would be in favor of it.” He said the videos and vote advertising had not had any impact on his position. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Member Raul Alvarez are sponsoring a competing resolution that would direct City Manager Toby Futrell “in preparation for next year’s budget, to facilitate the development of a new mechanism for the operation of (AMN) that would assure that the cable channel is an effective economic development tool that functions as a regional showcase for Austin area arts and music, without any contributions from the City’s general fund.” Last week, each Council member got his/her own copy of the nasty Nelly video, along with the one that sent the Mayor through the roof. That one urged viewers to vote under the photos of President Bush, Governor Rick Perry, Wynn and McCracken. The words, “You can make a difference” are not unusual fare in get out the vote (GOTV) advertising, but the implication was not lost on anyone at City Hall. Backers of the channel thought they had reached an agreement that would salvage the channel, but that fell apart and Wynn is evidently still planning to expose his colleagues to parts of the youth culture they would rather not see . . . Meanwhile, the McCracken family is awaiting the birth of their first child. McCracken has let it be known that he is likely to be absent from this week’s meeting because of the impending birth. If the baby does not come by Thursday, he said, the doctor would induce labor. McCracken said he would just as soon miss the AMN discussion anyway . . . Early voting . . . Saturday was the biggest day so far for those wishing to register their preferences in the Democratic and Republican Primaries, with a total of 2,389 votes cast. Northcross Mall and the Randall’s on Research each picked up more than 230 votes. More than 1200 voters cast ballots on Sunday. The attractive site for that crowd was the Home Depot on Brodie, where 114 people voted. 13,101 people have thus far cast ballots—about 2.48 percent of Travis County’s registered voters . . . TCEQ offers opportunity to comment on Edwards Rules . . . The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) will hold one meeting in Austin and one in San Antonio to receive comments on their publication regarding best management practices for complying with the Edwards Aquifer Rules. The commission will consider the draft version, along with public comments, regarding management of stormwater. The Austin meeting is on March 23 from 9am to 12pm at TCEQ Headquarters, Building E. Room 201S, 12100 Park 35 Circle. The commission will take comments in San Antonio on March 25. The commission also will accept written comments. For more information, contact Julie Talkington at 239-0906 . . . Design Commission meets tonight. . . The architects, developers and other citizens who make up the commission will hear a presentation on Brush Square, new home of the Susanna Dickinson House and review a letter to the City Council regarding interim plans for the park. They will also consider approval of a letter to the city’s Economic Development and Redevelopment Service Department about their possible involvement in emerging large and urban scale projects. Other items up for discussion include the Big Box ordinance and the Second Street Retail District Project . . . Fire and ice . . . The Austin Symphony Orchestra says fiery violinist Judith Ingolfsson will prove to local audiences this week that Björk isn’t Iceland’s only musical offering. Concerts begin at 8pm Thursday and Friday night at the Bass Concert Hall. Fanfare Magazine noted “the violinist’s unique poetry” and declared her performance “ardent and impassioned.” This week’s program includes works of Mozart, Korngold and Shostakovich. For the curious, there are pre-concert talks starting at 7:10pm and a wealth of information on the Symphony website, . . . Ann Richards sends a message . . . Former Gov. Ann Richards is beating the drum for the pro choice march in Washington, DC on April 25. A letter from the former governor says she was at first reluctant to go. “I thought, ‘been there, done that . . . time for the next generation to take up the battle’ . . . etc. Then I watched ‘ Iron Jawed Angels,’ the HBO movie about the women’s suffrage movement, and I was so moved by the tenacity and commitment of those women that I realized that I have not been doing enough in recent years for the Choice cause. We cannot allow ourselves to think that we can rest; we must continue fighting for the rights of women, and we must be in Washington, D.C. on April 25th. Please put it on your calendar . . . Our rights and freedoms are under attack as never before.” For more information, visit the web site at

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