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Neighbors, staff oppose South Austin project over location, zoning precedent

Tuesday, October 4, 2005 by

The siren’s song of an affordable west-side subdivision was too much for City Council to resist last week, as it unanimously approved first reading to rezone a 23-acre parcel from predominantly light industrial to a single-family small lot subdivision.

Neighbors were not so charitable about the proposed subdivision, which would be located off Ralph Ablanedo and Peaceful Hill in South Austin. Their opposition, however, was unable to stop developer Roy Blaker of Main Street Homes, who cobbled together five pieces of property, all with different zoning designations, to create a subdivision of 130 small single-family lots for infill development.

The staff recommendation was to deny the zoning on a number of grounds: It was adjacent to a number of industrial uses, including a steel fabrication company, Fiberglas supplier and vehicle impound facility. The close proximity of those uses would promote an uneasy relationship, especially when it came to traffic. And the move to zone the property SF-4 would set an undesirable precedent for other cases.

Greg Guernsey considered single-family development to be incompatible with the area, pointing out that open tracts existed further south and west, especially along South First Street, where no one would be opposed to further single-family development.

Attorney Richard Suttle acknowledged it was easy to find reasons to say “no” to the subdivision, especially in light of a recommendation from the Zoning and Platting Commission to deny the zoning change. ZAP recommended against the zoning change on a vote of 5-3. Still, the tract remained one of the few in excess of 20 acres west of Interstate 35 that was even marginally suitable for residential use, Suttle said.

“It’s difficult to find tracts of land for single-family homes this close in, and Main Street Homes is willing to do this,” Suttle said. “They have a commercial operation – they’re in business to make a profit – and they think they can make it work.”

Main Street Homes wants to bring affordable housing back into the city limits, Blaker told Council. The 130 lots within the Peaceful Hill subdivision would range from the high $80,000s to the $120,000s. That factor of affordability, especially west of Interstate 35, won the support of the city’s SMART Housing program. Stuart Hersch said the decision on Peaceful Hill, which has hung in the balance since February, had been difficult because of the factors involved and the city’s recommendation.

In the end, the need for affordable housing won. Hersch pointed out the city had built 1,669 single-family homes east of the freeway under the SMART housing program in the last five years; only 186 affordable homes had been built west of the freeway.

Neighbors in Park Ridge were not so enamored with the proposal. In fact, some of those neighbors regretted the move into a neighborhood that was surrounded by industrial uses. New neighbors would be faced with truck traffic, auto auctions and industrial uses.

The creation of the Park Ridge subdivision was proof that the industrial uses in the region were slowly being replaced with new residential uses, Suttle said. And Blaker pointed out there would be certain homeowners who would be willing to trade a little inconvenience for the chance to live in an affordable subdivision in the city.

Main Street Homes was willing to make some concessions, taking all access off Ralph Ablanedo Drive, limiting the trips to 2,000 per day and following recommendations on a neighborhood traffic analysis. Council Member Lee Leffingwell made the motion to approve the zoning on first reading, which was seconded by Brewster McCracken.

Mayor Will Wynn said he would support the motion but noted that he wanted to be “very respectful of staff recommendations” and would be taking another look at the neighborhood’s concerns between first and second reading. The subdivision would provide much-needed housing in a part of town that lacked it, Wynn said.

The first, and most historic, hangar at the former Mueller Airport, long in disrepair, can be reconstructed and preserved, an architect told the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Committee last month.

Assessing the Browning Ragsdale Hangar on the northwest end of the Mueller property was a condition of the comprehensive development agreement signed between the City of Austin and Catellus Austin Development. Catellus was required to complete the assessment within the first year of the development of Mueller. At a presentation last month, Chuck Naeve of Architectural Engineering Collaborative said the hangar had deteriorated but was still worthy of preservation and could be preserved with some work.

The World War II-era hangar was constructed of local lumber with an arch-hinged and asphalt roof. In 1986, the city made an attempt to preserve the hangar by supporting the arches with steel rods. Naeve walked through a series of slides with the commission that showed the bowing of the arches that occurred after the improvements.

The hangar covers about 10,000 square feet. In order to preserve the building, Naeve recommended the steel rods be removed and the diagonal decking replaced. The west wall of the hangar is a problem and the doors are frozen open. The building also has some issues with termites that need to be addressed, Naeve said. Those costs would be born by Catellus under the agreement signed between Catellus and the city.

Other hangars on the Mueller property will be demolished. Commission members showed an interest in taking the hangar back to the Historic Landmark Commission and getting it declared historic under city guidelines. Greg Weaver of Catellus said the assessment of the hangar would be followed by a reuse study. Once a new user is identified, possibly by the middle of next year, the hangar would be taken to the Historic Landmark Commission for historic designation.

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Smoking suit gets hearing . . . U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks will hold a hearing next week in the lawsuit filed by bar and nightclub owners seeking to block the City of Austin from enforcing the voter-approved smoking ban. The city filed to have the case removed to federal court last week, and Judge Sparks agreed yesterday to hold a hearing on a temporary injunction on October 11. Attorney Marc Levin, representing the bar and nightclub owners, was pleased with that decision. "Judge Sparks took all of our arguments into consideration," he said, "and he thought that our case had enough merit to go to a full hearing." Since each side will be given up to six hours to make its case, the hearing could occupy all of Tuesday and part of Wednesday next week. . . Meetings . . . The Zoning and Platting Commission meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall. . . . The Planning Commission Comprehensive Plan Committee meets at 6pm in room 2016 at City Hall . . . The W illiamson County Commissioners Court meets at 9:30am in the Justice of the Peace, Pct. 3 Courtroom, 301 S.E. Inner Loop, in Georgetown. . . . The Travis County Commissioners Court meets at 9am in Commission Chambers at 314 W. 11th Street. . . . TCEQ environmental awards . . . Texas Commission on Environmental Quality program staff is now accepting nominations for the 2006 Texas Environmental Excellence Awards (TEEA). Nominations can be made in 10 categories: agriculture, civic/nonprofit, education, government, innovative technology, large business/non-technical, large business/technical, small business, youth, and individual. Winners are recognized in May at an awards banquet in Austin, where video profiles of each project are presented. Winners are also featured in publicity for the awards, and receive a framed TEEA certificate that designates their specific category achievement. The deadline to submit nominations is November 4. To apply, visit . . . FM 1460 improvements . . . The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) will be conducting an Open House/Public Meeting at 6pm on Thursday to discuss proposed improvements to FM 1460 in Williamson County. The meeting will be held at the Hopewell Middle School Lecture Hall, 1535 Gulf Way in Round Rock. The proposed project would widen FM 1460 from a two-lane undivided roadway to a four-lane divided roadway between Quail Valley Dr in Georgetown and Old Settler’s Boulevard near Round Rock, a distance of 5.8 miles. The Open House will have displays showing the project area, route alternatives and other information. In addition, members of the project team will be available to answer questions. Call 832-7060 for more information . . . Toll-road concerns in Lockhart . . . The Caldwell County “Don’t Mess With 183 Committee” will host a community dialogue on SH 130 / US 183 Thursday night in Lockhart. The meeting will discuss TxDOT’s plan to replace 10 miles of US183 between Austin and Lockhart with a six-lane toll road plus four non-toll access lanes. The meeting will allow stakeholders in the Luling and Lockhart area to examine the potential problems of a toll road into the Austin area. The meeting is set for 7pm at the Lockhart High School Cafeteria. . . . Lawyer ads a problem, survey says . . . The group Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (CALA) of Central Texas plans a news conference today to release the results of a survey showing that advertising by personal injury lawyers is having a dangerous influence on consumers, health care and the civil justice system. In addition to unveiling the survey, CALA will be introducing a new free Legal Consumer Guide designed to help people who need legal assistance to be more confident and knowledgeable when selecting a lawyer. The news conference is scheduled at 11am in the Speaker’s Committee Room just outside the House Chamber in the State Capitol.

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