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ZAP recommends Gables Town Lake project

Thursday, November 3, 2005 by

Martinez argues it’s the right structure in the wrong place

After a lengthy argument, the Zoning and Platting Commission voted Tuesday night to recommend to changing the zoning from downtown mixed use (DMU) to downtown mixed use-central urban redevelopment (DMU-CURE) for the proposed Gables Town Lake project.

Under the proposed zoning, the project would have 314,000-square feet of multi-family use for 314 apartments, 160,000 square feet of use for 100 condominiums, 20,000 square feet of office space and 40,000 square feet of retail.

The vote was 7-1-1, with Vice Chair Joseph Martinez saying he was ready to vote for the 195-foot tall Gables project, but not at its proposed site on the Lumberman’s tract only 500 feet from Town Lake. Commissioner Melissa Hawthorne abstained.

Martinez rarely has been as vocal as he was in opposing this zoning change. Faced with the overwhelming support for the project – the Downtown Austin Alliance, the Design Commission, the Downtown Commission and the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association all gave it favorable nods – Martinez stood his ground.

“This is the most unique property, sitting strategically 500 feet from Town Lake. Whatever goes there will be what people will see coming down Lamar into downtown,” Martinez said. “It isn’t any other piece of land or any other tract. It’s unlike any other tract that we’ve seen. So I’m asking you to focus on the land itself, not the project, because the project has my vote. I’ll be first one to rally around and say this represents a bright future for Austin, but it’s the land that I’m asking you to focus on.”

Chair Betty Baker asked where, if not on the Lumberman’s tract, the high-rise should be placed. Commissioner Clark Hammond even brought Martinez a map to pinpoint an appropriate location. Staff recommended DMU-CURE zoning, noting that the property lies within the downtown CURE district, would be near a potential transit hub and would be compatible with surrounding multi-family, residential and commercial development in the area.

Martinez called the vote for the 195-foot height on the Gables project a vote against many years of planning along Town Lake. Architect Jeff Jack of the Zilker Neighborhood Association argued that the project violated the spirit, if not the letter, of the waterfront overlay ordinance.

“We ask the question, ‘Is this a proper use of public property and public funds to incentivize a development that, in our view, will diminish that thing we cherish the most in downtown Austin, Town Lake Park?’ ” asked Mark Gentle of the newly-formed Friends and Neighbors of Town Lake Park. Long-time activist Mary Arnold, who argued the Gables proposal would breach, rather than modify, the base zoning, followed him.

Jack argued the waterfront overlay ordinance was actually a carefully constructed set of parameters along the length of Town Lake that address by height and massing from both the downtown vantage point and the lakefront vantage point. His comment drew a lengthy series of questions from commission members but Assistant City Attorney David Lloyd could find nothing in writing to confirm Jack’s interpretation of the code.

Jack’s argument was that the waterfront overlay was never intended to be a stand-alone ordinance. Instead, it was intended to function in tandem with base zoning.

In his rebuttal, attorney Steve Drenner said the Gables would meet the letter of the law on the waterfront overlay and that the developer clearly was not “in it for the money” when he agreed to give up millions of dollars worth of property to provide a connection path to the Pfluger Bridge through the Gables project.

Commissioner Keith Jackson made the motion for a DMU-CURE footprint on the portion of the property where the high-rise building would be located. Under the plan, the high-rise is paired with a crescent-shaped parking garage that requires only DMU.

Martinez’ substitute motion to maintain the DMU zoning failed for lack of a second, even though he volunteered to wait all night for another commissioner to support it.

City planner Jerry Rusthoven confirmed that the actual plan of the building could change as long as it maintained the height and the footprint of the project. Those parameters would be “locked in” with the site plan approval. Baker said she supported the Jackson motion because it was a reasonable alternative to the current site plan, which would allow for a 220-foot office tower.

On a separate motion, the Zoning and Platting Commission unanimously voted to delay a decision to rezone the adjoining 900 block of West Cesar Chavez from public right-of-way to DMU. Some questions were raised about the map provided to the commission, and commissioners agreed there was no rush to rezone the property.

Environmental Board splits over business park

Owner wants variance to exceed impervious cover limits

A Northwest Austin business park seeking a variance to exceed impervious cover limits to add a building and additional parking ran into opposition from several members of the Environmental Board last night.

Newman Business Park, located at 9414 Anderson Mill Rd., was force to seek the variance, according to agent Jim Bennett, because it lost some 4,300 square feet of property to eminent domain for the widening of Anderson Mill road. “If it weren’t for the taking of that land, we wouldn’t be here,” Bennett said. “But we need to add both the building and the parking for this to work economically for my client.”

Plans call for adding a 2,300 square foot new building to the site, which already has three existing structures of various sizes, as well as adding 37 new parking spaces to the park. That’s 10 more than city regulations require, based on current regulations.

“It didn’t make financial sense to just add parking to the site,” Bennett said, who argued that parking for the current businesses is sometimes inadequate, forcing some customers to park on the grass. “Adding the extra building to house a business will balance out the numbers.”

But those numbers put the business park some 1,300-sq. ft.—or about 3.3 percent—over the impervious cover limit of 65 percent, according to city staff.

With a proposed increase in impervious cover, Board Member Mary Gay Maxwell raised concerns over the water quality of runoff from the site.

“What kind of water quality treatment measures could be put in the project?” she asked. Staff noted that a drainage ditch would be replaced with a pipe and that a small treatment pond would be constructed on the northwest corner of the property.

Maxwell was not convinced that was enough. “What could they do that would be better than that?” she asked. City staff suggested such possibilities as a rainwater collection system, or vegetative barriers to filter any runoff. Bennett said the owners would be willing to work with staff to develop better water quality measures at the site.

Chair David Anderson then asked Bennett if there was a way to scale back the size of the new building to keep the project under the impervious cover requirements, but Bennett said the park’s expansion plan had looked at the possibilities and arrived at the proposed formula.

“We are trying to balance the parking and business aspects of this plan to make it work financially,” Bennett said. “This is the optimum square footage for us. This is the balance we need.”

Again, Maxwell was not convinced. “Have you looked into a two-story structure to reduce the building’s footprint?” she asked

Bennett said that the original buildings in the park were residential homes that had been converted into businesses, and a two-story business building would not fit in with the look and feel of the area.

“Homes have second stories all the time,” Maxwell said.

Board Member Phil Moncada moved to recommend approval of the variance with three conditions: That the new building be constructed to Green Building standards, that the park have an integrated pest management (IPM) plan and that the owner would work with city staff to provide additional water quality measures, if feasible.

The board split on a 4-4 vote, with Moncada, William Curr a, Rodney Ahart and Amer Gilani voting for, Maxwell, Anderson, Julie Jenkins and John Dupnik voting against and Vice Chair Karin Ascot absent. The item will be forwarded to City Council with no recommendation.

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

No Spring today . . . Members of the Austin Neighborhoods Council and another neighborhood group have asked Council Members Lee Leffingwell and Brewster McCracken to seek postponement of the zoning case for the proposed condominium project at 3rd and Bowie Streets. Leffingwell said Wednesday that even though the two groups are not adjacent to Spring he would support their request . . . Several other zoning cases may also be postponed, either to November 17 or December 1. There will be no City Council meeting on November 10, the day before Veterans Day, nor on November 24, Thanksgiving. At 6pm, the Council will hold a public hearing on a resolution authorizing realignment of Sandra Muraida Way and construction of a water quality pond on parkland near Town Lake and the planned Gables development. The Council will also discuss alignment of the Pfluger Bridge . . City planner joins law firm . . . Tran Lackey, who served as a planner for the City of Austin for six years, has joined the firm of Minter Joseph & Thornhill. An attorney, Lackey will be doing legal work with the firm . . . Rose party at the ranch . . . State Rep. Patrick Rose (D-Dripping Springs) will host what backers hope will be his biggest fundraiser of the campaign season tonight at the LBJ Ranch near Johnson City. They are also hoping that former First Lady Ladybird Johnson will make an appearance . . . Powers campaign party. . . Hays County Judge Jim Powers will hold a fundraiser for his re-election campaign next Thursday, November 10 from 6:30 -10:30pm at the Salt Lick Restaurant’s Thurman Mansion in Driftwood. Michael Myers will provide musical entertainment. Special guests include radio personality Bama Brown and Harris County Judge Robert Eckels. For more information, visit the website . . . Oops. . . In Fact Daily reported Wednesday that the Zoning and Platting Commission had recommended rezoning for a property owner at 3400 Northland Drive that would allow a bank to locate on the half-acre property. Actually, the ZAP unanimously rejected the proposal to rezone the property from single-family residence (SF-3) and neighborhood office (NO) to community commercial (GR) . . . Early voting wraps Friday . . . With only two more days left, more than 6 percent of Travis County registered voters have cast early ballots for the November 8 Constitutional Amendment election. That’s a total of 38,259 ballots through Wednesday, which was the busiest day of early voting so far with 5,348 ballots cast. Boxes at Northcross Mall, Randall’s on Research and UT were the busiest yesterday. Election Day is next Tuesday . . . Proposition 2 news conference today. . . Pro Prop 2 ministers, elected officials, candidates and community leaders will hold a news conference at 12:30pm today at City Hall to talk about why they support the proposed Constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. The Ku Klux Klan will be rallying at City Hall Saturday afternoon, with very tight controls on press access, just in case anyone was planning as masquerading as a member of the media. Clearly, the city’s requirement of pre-rally credentials is meant to limit confrontations between the Klan and those who oppose the amendment and the organization. Read about those who may moon the Klan in John Kelso’s column in the Statesman or . . Mayor opposes intolerance . . . In case you missed it, Mayor Will Wynn is opposed to Prop. 2. He will hold a news conference at 10am today to proclaim Saturday a Day of Tolerance in Austin. According to the city’s Public Information Office, “The proclamation comes in light of a Ku Klux Klan Rally scheduled Saturday in the Austin City Hall Plaza.” So, mooning is probably not the sign of tolerance the Mayor is seeking. . . . Williamson County settles complaint . . . In a split vote, Williamson County Commissioners voted Tuesday to settle a high-profile discrimination complaint filed against the county by former employee Judith Metzger in December, 2004. Metzger had filed an EEOC complaint claiming she was illegally transferred from her job with the County Clerk’s office to a different job where she was sexually harassed. The item has been on the Commission agenda for several weeks and Metzger filed suit against the county last week. Commissioners Greg Boatright and Frankie Limmer and Judge John Doerfler voted for the settlement, while Commissioners Tom McDaniel and Lisa Birkman were opposed. Terms of the settlement were not released.

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