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Costco plan for Forum PUD moves forward

Friday, July 9, 2004 by

Environmental Board endorses plan that features reduced impervious cover

The Environmental Board gave an enthusiastic endorsement to changes in the once-controversial Forum PUD Wednesday night. The site in Southwest Austin at the corner of William Cannon and MoPac had received City Council approval in 1999 for a mixture of office and retail space. Now, developers Cardinal Paragon are planning a shopping complex to be called Southwest Marketplace with a Costco store as the anchor tenant.

The addition of Costco is driving changes to the original plans for the site. But those changes, instead of being further deviations from the SOS Ordinance, are actually reducing the amount of impervious cover for the development by 8.5 acres. According to attorney Steve Drenner, who represented Cardinal Paragon, the impervious cover would be lowered by about 20 percent.

The biggest change to the PUD approved by the Council will affect the layout and size of retail outlets planned for Southwest Marketplace. The original PUD limits any one individual retail user to a maximum size of 100,000 square feet. In exchange for allowing Costco to utilize 153,000 square feet, Cardinal Paragon is proposing to limit all other users to a maximum size of 50,000 square feet. While the site is exempt from the "no big box" ordinance recently passed by the City Council, Drenner said the reduction in the total amount of big box retail space followed the spirit of that ordinance. "It's entirely consistent with what the 'no big box ordinance' is all about, which is reducing the number of big boxes," said Drenner. "I think the 'no big box' ordinance was about protecting neighborhoods and making sure we did as good a job as we could of protecting the environment. I think we've accomplished all of those goals."

The change in size for the retail outlets would be accompanied by a design change for the site. Instead of three 'big box' stores of 100,000 square feet laid out in a strip-mall style, the one larger outlet could be set off separately from the smaller stores. The change will still have to go before Zoning and Platting Commission and the City Council to change zoning from office (GO) to the retail designation of GR. Promoters say retail outlets other than Costco will likely be a mixture of local and national stores. "From the very beginning in talking with the neighborhood, we had a desire to make sure that we don't have a project that's dominated 100 percent by national retailers," said Drenner. "We've looked at these spaces with local retailers in mind. It's early in the project, and we can't announce any particular tenants, but I will tell you I think the focus on finding local retailers I've seen on this project is unprecedented."

Talks with the surrounding neighborhood organizations began about nine months ago. Several representatives attended Wednesday night's meeting to offer their support. "Mr. Drenner and his staff have gone way out of their way to work with us, and I commend them for that," said Kim Sherman of the Westcreek Neighborhood Association. "They continue to work with us on issues like pedestrian access for the development. We are, quite frankly, very surprised. We've never had a developer take that kind of initiative, and we think that they should serve as a role model for current development within the city of Austin." Cliff Anderson of the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods agreed. He said he had initially been skeptical of the company's requests for changes to the original development plan. "At every meeting I have attended, people came into the meeting with the attitude of 'Yeah, sure . . . lie to me, I'll catch you.' And as I walked out, everybody was positive and everybody was supportive," he said.

Although no citizens spoke against the proposed changes to the PUD, the SOS Alliance did send a letter to board members expressing some concerns. In that letter Executive Director Bill Bunch argued that because of the significant changes to the original plans, the project should be considered an entirely new development and come into strict compliance with the SOS Ordinance. The PUD previously approved by the Council keeps the total impervious cover below 15 percent, but does that through clustering and the dedication of two larger tracts as conservation sites. "As a long time environmental activist, I can appreciate the idealism expressed in the letter," said Environmental Board Member Karin Ascot, who also serves on the board of the SOS Alliance. "That's what I strive for myself. I'd love to see no new development over the aquifer at all, but I don't realistically see that as something that's going to happen, especially at this major intersection. I'm just really going from the assumption that development will happen here and I think this project is an improvement over what would otherwise be built."

Board Chair Lee Leffingwell also praised the new design for the project. "What we're going from here is possibly three or more big boxes to a maximum of one . . . In essence, cutting the potential big box space in half," he said. "Without regard to the technical aspects of the 'no big box' ordinance, it complies with the spirit. This development is environmentally superior. It reduces impervious cover, not just by a little bit, but significantly."

The changes to the Forum PUD zoning will go next to the Zoning and Platting Commission and eventually on to the City Council. The original PUD required a super-majority vote of 6-1 since it deviated from the SOS Ordinance ( Council Member Daryl Slusher was opposed in the April 1999 vote). The city’s legal department has not made a determination if amending the PUD would require that same super-majority. “We think this is a proposal worthy of seven votes,” said attorney Steve Drenner. "I hope the issue about six votes or four is moot."

Next annexation area to city's east

Time to plan is now, says Luckens

City annexation officer Ben Luckens told the Planning Commission this week that now is the time to plan strategically, before the next wave of major annexation along the city’s eastern border begins.

Austin's extra-territorial jurisdiction is limited to five miles on each side. As the city has virtually reached those boundaries to the north and south, the next serious annexation zone will be in an area anticipating the greatest growth. Luckens believes it will be along the SH 130 corridor to the east.

"You need to decide where you want to be as a city. We took care of this," Luckens said, pointing to a map of the area along SH 45 on the city's northern edge, then pointing to the east. "Now you need to see what you want to do over here."

This week’s session with Luckens was intended to be a briefing on the annexation process. It was the first time most members had heard of the city's possible future annexation strategy. Chris Riley said planning could be an important key in promoting good development rather than sprawl. Either the city could shape development or wait for the consequences of inaction.

Luckens said the Planning Commission has a unique opportunity before it is reconstituted with the Zoning and Platting Commission. Luckens describes himself as a "hunter and gatherer," the person in the city who seeks out those areas in the city's ETJ where the benefits outweigh the costs of infrastructure and city services. In this way, most of the city's annexation is opportunistic rather than proactive, he said.

The SH 130 corridor, however, provides the city with a blank slate, a chance to encourage the kind of development it wants, Luckens said. Multiple city roads will cross the 49-mile $1.5 billion roadway, which will open in 2007. The city may want to encourage commercial development along high-traffic nodes or mixed-use high-density development at other intersections. Certain types of development can be driven by policies that begin with the Planning Commission, Luckens said. The city could choose to drive development by offering incentives or tax/fee breaks.

Annexation requires a strategy, Luckens said. The city cannot annex willy-nilly ahead of itself, putting in costly infrastructure before an area is ready to develop. On the other hand, the city wants to put infrastructure where it can encourage development.

Austin has a history of annexing out to major employment centers, Luckens said. The city annexed down Parmer Lane and RM 2222 to Motorola and Samsung when strip annexation was allowed. The state’s annexation laws have since been rewritten before the overhaul of the state's code on annexation.

No one wants another US 290 corridor, Luckens said. He encouraged the Planning Commission to ask the city for a SH 130 study since Austinites will be driving SH 130 within 10 years.

CAMPO members working on toll road plan amendments

Members of the CAMPO policy board will have a series of amendments to consider Monday night before they vote on the proposed Central Texas RMA toll road plan. State elected officials and members of the City Council who are on the CAMPO board have been working on amendments to address equity, efficiency and incorporating toll roads into a regional multi-modal transportation plan, according to a source familiar with the amendments.

Among those participating in crafting the amendments are Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, State Representatives Eddie Rodriguez and Dawnna Duke, County Judge Sam Biscoe, Mayor Will Wynn and Council Members Daryl Slusher and Brewster McCracken. Those amendments reportedly include one to build noise barriers on the portion of MoPac that runs through West Austin neighborhoods and a provision for stronger water quality protections. There may be other proposals to seek higher design standards, particularly on Loop 360, which is slated to have additional lanes under the RMA plan. Another source told In Fact Daily to look for an amendment to ensure a high level of participation by minority and women subcontractors.

State Representatives Terry Keel and Todd Baxter and Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, all of whom represent the western portion of Travis County, have said they are likely to vote against the toll road plan. Some of the most vocal opposition has come from Southwest Austin. However, they are only a small minority on a 23-member board that represents not only Austin and Travis County, but also Williamson and Hays Counties.

Regardless of any promised water quality measures, opponents of new roads over the aquifer, like Brad Rockwell of the SOS Alliance, will continue to oppose the plan. Rockwell told In Fact Daily last night that the toll road proposal is “a subsidy for sprawl.” He said, “What is being proposed is an outrageously expense of money on a plan that hasn’t received adequate review; and in particular, what is being proposed so far . . . is $700 million for toll roads over the aquifer. It’s an astounding amount of money. If even a fraction of that money was spent purchasing open space and buying out some of the development that those were intended to feed, you wouldn’t need to build the toll roads. These are subsidies to developers, not intended to help those who already live here.”

Citizens for Mobility, the group organized by Pete Winstead and PR professional Don Martin is hosting a press conference in conjunction with the Greater Austin Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at 8:15am at the Chamber’s office, 3000 S I-35. They will talk about support for the toll road plan in the minority community.

Free vaccinations and pet registration. . . Austin and Travis County Health and Human Services will provide free rabies vaccinations and pet registration from 8am to noon this Saturday at Martin Park, 1626 Festival Beach Road (along Town Lake). For more information call Bob Corona at 972-5002 or Dorinda Pulliam at 972-6088 . . . Slow week ends . . . The major activity at City Hall this week has been work on various aspects of the proposed toll road plan. Accompanying that has been an effort to clear a massive buildup of email. Both supporters and opponents of toll roads have been expressing themselves, some apparently at great length. After the vote Monday night, other issues, such the hospital district’s board and funding the proposed Waller Creek Tunnel will return to the public agenda.

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