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BOA grants variance for St. David's new office tower

Monday, September 27, 2004 by

Neighbors agreed to 120-foot height on I-35

The Board of Adjustment last week granted a variance to St. David's Hospital allowing the health care facility to build a 120-foot office tower at the corner of I-35 and 30th Street. St. David's needed the variance because the property is zoned GO (office), which allows a building height of only 60 ft.

Attorneys John Joseph and Dowe Gullatt, who represented St. David's, told the board the health care community needed doctors' offices in close proximity to the hospital. Gullatt also explained that the hospital had promised area neighbors they would not build additional buildings north of 32nd Street, even though the medical care corporation owns property there.

Don Larson, president of the Hancock Neighborhood Association, said his group, as well as the Eastwoods Neighborhood Association, had signed off on the 120-foot building height after lengthy discussions with representatives of St. David's.

“The 120-foot annex that the hospital is seeking is a really big pill for us to swallow,” Larson said. "But we have worked with the hospital to bring 175 feet down, bring 150 feet down—120 feet is appropriate for the community and for the hospital. We anticipate working with the hospital over the next several months on the PUD (planned unit development) and look forward to working with the hospital on a St. David’s complex that is going to meet the City of Austin’s needs.” He also confirmed Gullatt’s assertions. “We have an agreement with them, in principle, that the small sections of land that the hospital owns north of 32nd Street that abut the Concordia campus,” would not become a part of the hospital complex.

The new building will provide four levels of office space plus about 300 parking spaces, Joseph said. One member of the audience wanted to know why the hospital had agreed to limit its height to120 feet. Joseph explained that after looking at the project more closely, St. David's had determined that there was enough demand for four stories of offices, but that the additional height would be speculative.

The reason that this portion of the hospital's expansion is moving ahead of the PUD process, Joseph said, is that the latter was simply not moving fast enough and the need exists now for the office space.

According to a letter from Malcolm Belisle of St. David's, the hospital has been at its present location since 1955 and has expanded several times. The facility contains about 700,000 square feet, including the rehabilitation center and the psychiatric center. He also stressed the hospital’s commitment to concentrate the highest buildings next to I-35, as requested by neighbors.

BOA Chair Herman Thun offered the motion to grant the variance and Board Member Laurie Virkstis seconded it. After considerable discussion about a decorative tower that will sit another 22.2 ft. above the office building, the board voted unanimously to grant the variance.

ZAP fails to agree on North Lamar zoning

The owners of a shopping center on North Lamar will have to wait a few more weeks before finding out if the Zoning and Platting Commission will recommend upgrading the zoning on part of their site. The ZAP was unable to reach a decision on the case last week, and opted to continue the public hearing until its meeting on October 5.

Lamar Ventures Partnership, led by managing partner Mike Voticky, is seeking to re-zone 6.7 acres at 11800 North Lamar from DR, LO, and GR-CO to a split between GR-CO and LO-CO. "The property is being bought," said agent Sarah Crocker, who represented the property owners. "The lender is requiring that we bring the site into conformance with the uses for zoning." The site was developed prior to annexation, and many of the uses were grandfathered as non-conforming when the land was brought into the city limits. “This case is being brought to bring the site into conformance with the uses that are there,” Crocker said.

But residents of the neighborhoods along Lamar urged the commission to deny the zoning change. Wayne Tobias, president of the Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association, argued that the ZAP should not encourage GR zoning in such close proximity to the surrounding homes, which have SF-1 and SF-2 zoning. He also asked the commission to consider the recommendations for the site made during the North Lamar Study in the early 1980’s. “The truth is, those that developed the study had great foresight, and made sound recommendations for zoning based on the future of properties around this portion of Lamar,” he said. “The zoning designations for this area were not just knee-jerk recommendations. This section of Lamar was addressed specifically, with a recommendation that office and multi-family be compatible with the housing.”

The concern was not necessarily with the existing businesses at the shopping center, said Tobias, but with future redevelopment that would be allowed under GR zoning. “Can you see having a brightly-lit car lot, 24-hour convenience store, or pawn shop located in the backyard of what was a $200,000 house? Allowing this property to be re-zoned GR would weaken the ability to prohibit GR on adjacent properties,” he said, “which will result in a floodgate of detrimental re-zoning in the area.”

Crocker attempted to allay the fears of new uses intruding on the tranquility of homeowners. “There is more than a 500-foot buffer established between the neighborhoods and where this particular development is,” she said. A tributary of Walnut Creek runs between Lamar Boulevard and Eubank Drive, and many of the closest homes face Eubank Drive with their back yards backing into that creek. The city’s regulations for protecting creeks and mandatory setbacks, Crocker said, would make sure any new development was an ample distance from those homes. She also asked the commission to balance the needs of the landowner and current tenants with the recommendations of the North Lamar Study to zone the area LO. “It’s very difficult to go to a banker or a lender and explain to them what the North Lamar Study is, and why they should loan money on a property that is not zoned in conformance with the uses that are there,” she said. “If you cannot get GR on a major arterial street, I don’t know where else you put it.”

Commissioners were divided over the proper zoning for the site. Commissioner Joseph Martinez moved to zone the entire tract LO in accordance with the North Lamar Study recommendations. “I think there are some valid concerns that were raised back then that are valid now,” he said. “Lamar is a major arterial…but I think we do have to respect the fact that there are homes and families in that area. I think it’s the best compromise we could have right now.”

But Commission Chair Betty Baker disagreed, turning over the chair of the meeting to Martinez to make a substitute motion in support of the GR-CO and LO-CO. “LO zoning on a major arterial that carries the traffic that Lamar does is almost, in some regards, punitive. If you can’t get GR zoning, it is going to be a tough world,” she said. Baker also had a message for the homeowners who protested city staff’s recommendation to grant the requested zoning change. “These uses … some … if not all of them … existed on Lamar prior to that residential development to the west. They bought their homes,” she said. “They knew the creek was there, they knew Lamar was over there … and these uses were already there.”

The vote on Baker’s motion was 4-3 in favor, with Commissioners Clarke Hammond, Teresa Rabago, and Joseph Martinez opposed. Commissioner Keith Jackson had attended part of the meeting, but was not on the dais when the vote was taken. Although the 4-3 split shows the approval of the majority of the Commissioners present, it requires five affirmative votes for a recommendation to go forward to Council. Commissioner Melissa Whaley Hawthorne offered a motion to re-open the public hearing and continue the case on October 5, which commissioners approved unanimously.

Today’s meetings . . . Both the Historic Landmark Commission and the Design Commission are scheduled to discuss and make recommendations concerning city staff's plans for rezoning Rainey Street and moving some of the houses into an historic enclave. The Design Commission is scheduled to meet at 5:45pm in the 11th floor conference room of One Texas Center, while the HLC is scheduled to meet in Room 325 of One Texas Center at 7pm. Also, the Historic Preservation Task Force will meet in the same building, in Room 240 at 5:30pm . . . The Board of Managers of the Travis County Hospital District is scheduled to meet at 6:30pm tonight and Wednesday night in the Granger Building at 11th and Guadalupe. The board will also meet with Travis County Commissioners at 9am Tuesday to approve an interlocal agreement between the district and the City of Austin and to set the district's tax rate . . . Looking ahead . . .City Hall should become a lively place once again after nearly two weeks of down time. The first meeting since passage of the 2005 budget will be Thursday, and the agenda boasts 105 items — including 11 annexation hearings set for 6pm. There are also eight new zoning cases and 10 zoning cases being heard on second- and third-reading … Banned Books Week begins … The ACLU of Texas will hold the first event of its week-long banned books week celebration, starting at 7pm at BookPeople on Lamar. Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman will be among those reading excerpts from banned books .

Copyright 2004 In Fact Daily

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