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Slaughter property OK'd condos

Monday, April 26, 2004 by

Developer representative says SOS Ordinance does not apply

The Austin City Council has granted SF-6 zoning on third and final reading for a tract on West Slaughter Lane. The property at 3206 West Slaughter had been zoned I-RR, but was surrounded by multi-family zoning on either side. The SF-6 zoning will allow the owner to do clustered, condominium-style development on the 8.9-acre tract.

A single-family home currently sits on the lot. That existing home could serve as a clubhouse or office for the condo development, which could potentially have up to 24 townhomes clustered into six groups of four units each. Staff and the Zoning and Platting Commission both supported the SF-6 zoning to allow any development on the site to be set farther back from a creek and one critical environmental feature on the site. “It’s appropriate for this site given that it would allow clustering, given our desire to protect those environmental features,” said Alice Glasco, director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department. “The closer together the residential development is, the more protection you’re going to provide those critical environmental features.”

Environmental Officer Pat Murphy identified an 18-inch vent hole in the ground on the property, which triggers a minimum setback of 150 feet for any new development. The property owner will also have to protect a creek that runs through the site. “I was concerned about crossing the creek. After evaluating it in the field and looking at the creek, that became less of a concern,” said Murphy. “It’s a fairly shallow creek. There is some agricultural use on the tract, and that became less of a concern.”

The property owners do not plan on complying with the provisions of the SOS Ordinance governing impervious cover in the area, since those regulations combined with the limited frontage along Slaughter would effectively prevent any development on the tract. Agent Sarah Crocker told the Council her client would be pursuing “grandfathered” development rights afforded under House Bill 1704. The site has a plat recorded in 1978, well before the passage of the SOS ordinance. However, even if those grandfathering claims are granted, the property owner will still have to take certain steps to protect environmental features and water quality. “The city has consistently required that recharge features be protected over the South Edwards Aquifer. Even if there are 1704 claims, we have been consistent in doing that,” said Murphy.

The Council voted 6-1 to approve the SF-6 zoning. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman pointed to the limited available area for development on the tract as a reason for the clustering allowed under SF-6. “Different areas of flood plain are a very specific and physical reality so that the on-paper expectations of a zoning category don’t really translate to this kind of property,” she said. Council Member Daryl Slusher was opposed, as he had been on first and second readings. The city staff has not made a conclusive ruling on the applicant’s claims of grandfathered development rights under HB 1704. Those claims will be considered when a subdivision request or site plan is filed.

Multi-purpose campus proposed for Mueller

The proposed elementary school on the Mueller site could be a multi-purpose campus site that combines a school with other recreational options in the area.

ROMA Planner Jim Adams presented that possibility at Tuesday night’s Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Advisory Commission meeting. And although it’s still early in the process, Adams described a campus on the northeast edge of the site that would include a proposed Austin Independent School District elementary school, a children’s village proposed by developer Dick Rathgeber and a recreational facility underwritten by the Kroc Foundation.

This campus concept is not unlike the Pickle Elementary campus in the St. Johns’ neighborhood in North Austin. The Pickle campus includes the elementary campus, as well as a joint library, community clinic, community center and Austin Police Department space.

Adams said the land-use plan for Mueller would have to be reconfigured slightly to accommodate the joint campus. The children’s village would be located on property adjoining the state aircraft pooling board. Adjusting the Mueller land-use plan would provide space that would transition from the school to green space to soccer fields. Adams also proposed moving a parking lot slightly so it could be shared among users.

Catellus Project Director Greg Weaver called the proposal “very, very conceptual,” but was enthusiastic about the concept of shared space. The plans could turn the elementary school campus into a facility used day and night by the community. Staff liaison Pam Hefner said the joint use could provide a tremendous benefit to the community.

Adams said the land uses would be reconfigured but not stripped out of the plan. The land would have just as many residential units, but in different places. The advisory commission has zealously guarded the amount of residential space in the Mueller plan.

The late Joan Kroc gave the Salvation Army $2 billion to build and operate community centers around the country. Austin is one site location. The community centers would be similar to a Boys and Girls Club: in the range of 40,000 square feet. The programming for the campus could range from athletic activities to artistic efforts to extended daycare services for parents. The local Salvation Army chapter will choose its options.

The Austin school district approached Catellus about a year ago, asking whether a recreational facility similar to the Burger Center could be built on the Northeast Austin property. The facility would be located in the neighborhood of US 183/Manor road.

Commissioner Donna Carter said she had long supported the idea of multi-use properties. Configuring the campus site can provide tremendous options for children, Carter said. And it anticipates that latchkey children will be living in homes at Mueller.

Adams and Weaver said the multi-use facility would require significant planning. The advisory commission has no deadline to make a decision, but Adams said Austin is in the process of putting together its next bond issue, and that bond issue could include the elementary school component at Mueller.

Non-profit group offers Mueller appraiser

Keep the Land contineus effort against sale of Mueller

Organizers of Keep the Land are ratcheting up their campaign to convince the City Council to hold on to the 700 acres of the old Robert Mueller Airport instead of selling the land to a private developer. They’ve retained the services of an appraiser they say has the ability to provide estimated values of all the property at Mueller within 50 to 90 days. While city staff has held the position that the future value of the land will be based, in part, on what can be built there organizers of “Keep the Land” have argued that the property should not be sold without first establishing a fair market price through an independent evaluation. (See In Fact Daily, March 24, 2004.)

To that end, the group has arranged an agreement with a private firm to appraise the property. “Finally, we will have these figures for you to use before you to make this decision,” Mary Lehmann, executive director of Keep the Land, told Council members during Citizen’s Communications last week. “The idea of getting an estimate for leasing by phases means that you control, by owning the land, the use of it right up through build-out. Then you could decide whether to sell. But the reverse won’t work. You can’t sell and then decide, ‘maybe we should be leasing’. It is our hope that you will proceed to take this estimate into consideration.”

Keep the Land Communications Director Robert Singleton also urged Council members to consider retaining the property for the city. He said the city should be able to find alternate means to develop the water, sewer, roadway and electricity infrastructure on the site without selling the property to a private developer. “There are a number of ways to pay for the sewer, usually done by the issuance of bonds,” he said. “Many lenders say, ‘We’re willing to loan money on a project for infrastructure if you can show us there’s going to be a revenue stream.’ Well, I think 700 acres of inner-city land is going to be a guaranteed revenue stream.” He also suggested the use of a TIF (Tax Increment Financing district) or the creation of a separate enterprise fund within the city budget to handle the infrastructure improvements.

Although the item was posted on last week’s agenda, the Council took no action on the issue and had no discussions regarding Mueller in open session. The Council, as usual, did not comment on the offer of an appraisal from an outside source. It’s not clear if the appraiser hired by Keep the Land will be able to complete the task without cooperation from the city. That cooperation could include access to the site and the review of some information related to the site or the business plan for redevelopment. Some documents or information might not be available through open-records requests since the Texas Public Information Act contains exemptions relating to real estate and real property. Lehmann said the city has requested a ruling from the Texas Attorney General on what documents must be disclosed in this case. .

No billboard changes for now . . . Although city staff brought forward an item that would have amended City Code to allow removal of one billboard and replacement at another location, it was Council Member Betty Dunkerley who requested the amendment. On Thursday, city staff asked to withdraw the item from the agenda, which was done without objection. Dunkerley had obviously counted the votes for such a change and found less than a majority in favor of the idea. Except for Council Member Brewster McCracken, the rest of the Council can point to the long drawn-out battle that preceded the last amendment to the billboard ordinance in explaining why they would decline to consider the matter again. Look for this item to return at some point, however . . . Not ready for prime time either. . . A proposal by the city’s Watershed Protection and Development Review staff to allow administrative approval of wastewater lines in the Critical Water Quality Zones in the Harris Branch, Decker, Gilleland and Wilbarger Creek watersheds was postponed to May 13. That item, also requested by the Council, has drawn fire from the Environmental Board and some environmental organizations . . . Today’s meetings . . . The Capital Metro Board of Directors will meet at 4pm at their offices on E. 5th Street . . . The Historic Landmark Commission will meet at 7pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center. Their agenda includes requests to approve three demolition applications or initiate historic zoning and five requests to approve historic zoning for those seeking the designation . . . The Library Commission will meet at 7pm at the Austin History Center and the Human Rights Commission will meet at 5pm in Room 325 of One Texas Center.

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