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Northwest building rezoning recommended

Wednesday, November 2, 2005 by

Commercial zoning faces neighborhood opposition

After a somewhat rocky start and some changes in their proposal, developers were able to persuade the Zoning and Platting Commission to recommend rezoning a former state building at 5717 Balcones Dr. to community commercial with a conditional overlay (GR-CO) for use by a group of optometrists.

The case of the former Texas Cosmetology Licensing Commission building first came to ZAP in early October. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 5 2005) At the time, Chair Betty Baker noted the strong neighborhood opposition and strongly recommended that agent Lynn Ann Carley pull her case and review her retail zoning proposal on the property. Last night, attorney Richard Suttle brought a revised proposal before ZAP, which he had “tightly cinched” to narrow the possible uses on the property, he told the commissioners.

That’s not the way Suttle originally pictured the property’s zoning. The case originally was zoned as a straight GR case, one Suttle expected to win approval on a consent agenda. That, obviously, was not the result.

“We were not zoning for a particular use and owner,” Suttle said. “We were zoning for what is compatible with surrounding land uses and zoning. What we tried to do on this case was to look to the north, which is GR, and to the south, which is LR. And we looked at the fact that this is MoPac and Balcones.”

The original zoning on the 1.8-acre parcel was SF-3, a family residential zoning category. That’s because the state was not subject to zoning and was not required to adjust the zoning. The proposal was to rezone to GR-CO. Last month, commissioners suggested general office (GO) zoning, but that zoning would limit the possible retail use.

The conditional overlay excluded almost all potential uses and would limit the uses to medical office space exceeding 6,000 square feet. The conditional overlay on the limited GR use also would limit the height of the two-story building to 30 feet, with a maximum impervious cover of 70 percent and floor-to-area ratio of .29-to-1. A maximum vehicle trip generation of 2,000 would be allowed on the property, which Suttle said he agreed to because of the building’s lack of direct access to MoPac.

Bill Bradley, president of the Northwest Austin Civic Association, argued that the GR zoning was too wide open for the property. Bradley noted the limitations on the zoning of the surrounding properties – which Suttle was, for the most part, willing to agree to – and Bradley said he feared the long-term uses of the property. He called it “speculative zoning,” giving the property entitlements that might be valuable in the future.

Bradley, and others, also noted the problems of traffic on Balcones Drive, a neighborhood collector. Others noted that the property may be proposed GR, but most of the property on the other side of the street was restricted to limited office (LO) uses.

Commissioner Keith Jackson made the motion for GR-CO, which won approval on a vote of 7-2. Commissioners Clarke Hammond and Janis Pinnelli voted against the motion. Baker had proposed the inclusion of a limited-use restaurant on the property – given its location along MoPac — but the proposal did not win support.

In a nearby, but unrelated case, the ZAP unanimously rejected a proposal to rezone the property at 3400 Northland Drive from single-family residence (SF-3) and neighborhood office (NO) to community commercial (GR). The neighborhood also objected to a proposal to locate a bank on the half-acre property.

Austin's air is cleaner, thanks to Rita and Katrina

Other measures help metro area record lowest ozone levels in a decade

Thanks at least in part to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Austin metropolitan area recorded the lowest levels of ozone in 2005 of any year in the past decade. City of Austin Sustainability Officer Fred Blood noted that the five-county metro area has also implemented a number of measures to reduce ozone but the hurricanes deserve some measure of credit for lower pollution in Central Texas.

Sources outside the region—especially pollution-producing plants in Louisiana and the Texas coast—create more than half of the Austin metro area’s ozone. Curtailing the operations of some of those plants, at least for a while, gave Austin a breath of fresh air.

Austin and the counties of Travis, Bastrop, Williamson, Hays and Caldwell signed an Early Action Compact in 2003—ensuring that the metro area would not be declared a non-attainment area so long as the governments took the steps they promised to take to lower ozone production. In 2004, Austin would have been called a “non-attainment” area without the compact ,Blood said. This year, however, a number of factors—including refinery and power plant closures caused by recent hurricanes—drove the ozone level down.

Blood explained that the ozone level is measured throughout the region for each eight-hour period. The three highest levels are discarded each year. Then scientists look at the fourth highest reading for each of three consecutive years. If that number is too high, the area’s ozone level is called “non-attainment.”

“Our worst ozone days are created,” Blood said, “sometimes in the early summer . . . but usually in August or September. What normally happens is you get a high across North Texas and it kind of stalls out.”

The front picks up air, including pollutants from refineries and power plants in Louisiana and southeast Texas. With temperatures above 95 and wind blowing at five miles per hour or less, it’s a perfect recipe for Central Texas ozone. That’s especially true when 55,000 University of Texas students return to campus and school buses start running, Blood said. The combination of extra emissions and ozone-promoting meteorological conditions could have made ozone a by-product of this year’s mid-September heat wave. But the hurricanes reduced emissions during the same time period.

Blood hastens to add that the five-county region has kept up its end of the bargain. Clean air measures that he says made the most difference include Austin Energy’s use of wind and other renewable resources as well as lower-emission fueled power plants like Sand Hill. Inspecting automobiles to ensure that they meet current emissions standards will also help, Blood said.

Asked what else the city might do to reduce ozone, the sustainability officer said city contractors might be required to reduce their emissions. He noted that TxDOT has already taken steps to reduce the amount of pollution that diesel-fueled trucks emit on Ozone Action days.

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

ZAP recommends new Gables zoning . . . Late last night the Zoning and Platting Commission voted 7-1-1 to recommend a change to the zoning for the Lumbermen’s tract on Cesar Chavez as requested by Gables Residential. In Fact Daily will have a full report on this case Thursday . . . Information please. . . City staff, and specifically J erry Rusthoven, will be providing the Zoning and Platting Commission with a monthly update on City Council actions on zoning cases, specifically those cases where the Council took action differs from ZAP’s recommendations. Vice-chair Joseph Martinez made the request. Chair Betty Baker noted that there just weren’t that many cases where ZAP and City Council differed . . . Panel decision awaited . . . Members of the Citizens Review Panel, who heard Monday night from citizens on the police shooting of Daniel Rocha, met again Tuesday afternoon. The panel may have come to a decision on whether to recommend an independent investigation of the officer who shot the 18-year-old Austinite. There was no word last night on what the panel might recommend to Police Chief Stan Knee but any investigation would have to be started almost immediately given the constraints of Texas civil service laws . . . Early voting continues. . . Tuesday had the largest turnout yet in early voting for the November 8 Constitutional Amendment elections. Some 4,423 people voted, to bring the total up to 32,911 – slightly more than 6 percent of the registered voters in Travis County. Northcross Mall and the University of Texas had the most ballots Tuesday. Statewide, Texas Secretary of State Roger Williams is predicting a 16 percent voter turnout, higher that the 12.3 percent that voted in 2003 amendment elections. Early voting ends Friday. . . Meetings. . . The Environmental Board meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Water and Wastewater Commission meets at 6pm in Room 105 at Waller Creek Plaza . . . . Proposition 2 news conference. . . Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht will make an announcement about deceptive ads regarding Proposition 2 at 11am today at the Price Daniel Building, 214 W. 14th St. The AG’s Press Office was making no comment about the matter prior to the announcement, but informed sources say he will likely address claims made in some ads that the ballot language was inadvertently worded to make all types of marriage illegal. Abbott has recorded a message to Texas Republicans stating that a vote for Proposition 2 is a vote “for traditional marriage” and urging voters to vote in favor of the amendment.

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