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Design standards assist high rise developer

Wednesday, January 11, 2006 by

New rules would allow more units to be built on South Congress tract

The Board of Adjustment granted a variance Monday for a mixed-use high-rise on South Congress Avenue so that the developer could build a primarily residential complex under the city’s new Design Standards as opposed to the prevailing codes.

The project is planned at 2109 South Congress, the site of the Don-Mar Motor Court, a 1930s era landmark that used to house tourists and travelers until the area was bypassed by I-35 in the 1960s. Developer John Bertsch plans a mixed-use development on the site that will include both residential and retail spaces in a commercial services – mixed use – neighborhood plan (CS-MU-NP) zoning district.

Developers sought a variance to the current Land Development Code for the area, which would have limited the number of residential units in the complex by specifying minimum sizes for each. Bertsch said he wants to develop the site using the city’s planned new Commercial Design Standards, which are in the process of being codified by city staff.

“What we are planning will conform to all of the regulations and design standards in the new development codes,” he said. “The older code would force us to build more of the large units designed for families, where this is clearly an area that will appeal more to singles and young couples. The new design standards will allow us to build the smaller units.”

The variance will allow Bertsch to increase the number of residential units from 42 to 64, while keeping the project in the same footprint along South Congress.

Both the South River City Citizens and the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association have approved the project, and backed the variance request.

SRCC’s Danette Chimenti said the developer has agreed to a restrictive covenant limiting access to the project to and from South Congress only. “This is very much in keeping with the neighborhood plan,” she said. “It’s a very positive development.”

Under the covenant, there would be no way to enter or leave the complex except on the side that fronts South Congress. SRCC was particularly concerned about parking and traffic on Nickerson Street, which runs behind the property. Bertsch said in keeping with the covenant, Nickerson would dead end before it reached the project, and a barrier would be built to discourage parking in the area. Parking in the project would be in a below-street-level garage.

The board approved the variance on a 5-0 vote, with a stipulation that the developer observe the Nickerson Street agreement.

Commission OKs greater height for UT area

The Planning Commission on Tuesday endorsed changes to the University Neighborhood Overlay that would increase the maximum allowable height for two projects in the neighborhood near the UT campus.

Neighbors supported both of the projects. One covers three lots in the 900 block of W. 26th, which will be allowed to go up to 170 feet tall as part of a development rights swap with the nearby Maverick-Miller House at 910 Poplar Street. The city staff had recommended allowing all five lots in the 900 block of W. 26th to go to 170 feet. “The east end of the block is not substantively different in form or location from the western part, so (staff’s recommendation) is to treat the whole thing uniformly,” said Mark Walters with NPZD.

But that contradicted the wishes of the neighbors, who had reached an agreement with the developers to support the height increase for the lots in exchange for a pledge to improve the streetscape and modifications to the building set-back. Those improvements will be addressed in a private restrictive covenant.

“We have all kinds of detailed plans from the owners of the property between 900 and 908 W. 26th,” said Linda Team. “They’re making a major contribution in sidewalks and traffic flow and architectural details as an additional cost to their project in exchange for the additional height. To extend that to these who didn’t participate or contribute in any way would be not fair or appropriate.”

At 21st and Rio Grande, the developers are planning for a 220-foot tall residential tower with retail on the ground floor to be called 21 Rio “This is the first real UNO project, if you will,” said agent Mike McHone. “It’s going to go to the maximum height, it’s going to provide the mixed use, it’s going to provide affordable housing.” But McHone said the project was not feasible under the current restrictions. “The owners of 21 Rio…they crunched the numbers and said ‘we can’t make it work at 175 ffeet’.”

Staff supported the request to increase the maximum height on that lot to 220 feet, noting that had been their original proposal when the University Neighborhood Overlay was being drafted. McHone testified that the 220-foot height was common in other cities embracing the concepts of New Urbanism.

In exchange for the height increase, the developers are promising that the project will include increased amounts of affordable housing, improved sidewalks, ground-floor retail, and noise mitigation to protect the Shoal Crest neighborhood.

Commissioners approved the changes for both 900-908 W. 26th and 21st and Rio Grande by unanimous votes. “It appears the owner is working in good faith with the University Area Partners,” said Commissioner Jay Reddy of the developers of 21 Rio. Both ordinances will go on to the City Council for final approval.

“I do hope there will be some ongoing discussions about increased height in the entire UNO area,” said Commission Chair Chris Riley. “I think it’s a healthy discussion. I think the whole UNO has been a tremendous success, but everything can be improved. Now that a number of projects have been done, if people are willing to sit down and discuss ways that it could be tweaked to make it better I think that’s great.”

CAMPO Board amends 2030 Plan

The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Policy Committee approved three new amendments to the CAMPO 2030 plan Monday night, an action that raised some of the dormant objections to the most recent long-term transportation plan.

The three amendments include two pass-through toll projects – one in Hays County and the other in Williamson County – that have already been approved by the Texas Transportation Commission, along with a Round Rock intermodal transit and parking facility that has already received a $1 million federal earmark.

In what remained a fairly low-key meeting, Dick Kallerman of the Sierra Club raised his consistent concern that road projects did not take the big picture view necessary to reduce sprawl and maximize transportation options in the region. Kallerman noted that when the CAMPO 2030 passed last summer, plenty of people came to the group to raise objections that the region should, and could, consider a better way of planning.

“We’re not talking about land use planning in a meaningful way,” Kallerman said. “We’re not talking about new kinds of development. We’re talking about sustainability in terms of roads and mobility.”

Executive Director Michael Aulick, who was asked to address the concerns, noted that CAMPO has begun a move toward projections that are more sensitive to regional land planning. CAMPO staff has been meeting with representatives of both Envision Central Texas and Liveable City to come up with alternative growth patterns that differ from existing growth trends, he said.

New plans will be announced next summer and will be incorporated into the CAMPO 2035 plan, Aulick told the board. That plan is not due until 2010.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty noted that he, too, had objections to the CAMPO 2030, if for different reasons. Daugherty thinks too much money is being put into public transit. About 30 percent of the revenue in the plan – which could be upwards of $22 billion over the life of the plan – is dedicated to about 5 percent of the travel. He, too, wants to revisit the plan to make changes.

The amendments to the CAMPO 2030 plan, which the board approved unanimously, make four changes, three of them for projects:

The Round Rock intermodal transit and parking facility is a $5 million project for downtown Round Rock. A total of $1 million will be provided by the recent reauthorization of the federal transportation act, known as SAFETEA-LU, with the city picking up the balance of the project costs. The project will provide a facility for riders who will likely use Capital Metro for an express bus route to downtown Austin.

Two additional pass-through toll projects also are planned: Hays County intends to expand RM 12 to a four-lane major divided arterial between RM 32 and Holland in Hays County. The project, intended to be a major safety improvement for the San Marcos area, is expected to cost $28.3 million.

The Williamson County project would expand RM 2338 to a four-lane major divided arterial between RM 3405 and Shell Road. Ultimately, RM 2338 is expected to be a six-lane arterial between FM 970 and Interstate 35, providing some relief for the freeways and toll roads that will connect through Georgetown.

©2006 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Thomas hospitalized. . . Mayor Pro Tem Danny Thomas was resting comfortably in St. David’s Hospital yesterday. He said his illness was not serious but that he would likely not be able to attend Thursday’s City Council meeting. Various intriguing cases, including the Gables/Park Plaza on Cesar Chavez and the accompanying zoning for the city-owned Crescent will be postponed to the Jan. 26 meeting . . . AMD moving on plan . . . AMD announced Tuesday that the company had signed a lease for 50,000 square feet of office space at the Travis Oaks office building on Southwest Parkway. The company plans to house approximately 200 employees in the lease space until the new campus is finished. AMD plans to build an 825,000 square foot office complex on the Lantana tract, part of which is over the Barton Springs zone of the Edwards Aquifer. At least seven of the 10 citizens who have signed up to address the City Council on the citizen communications section of Thursday’s agenda will be castigating AMD for its decision to build in that location—and the Council for refusing to take a stand against that decision . . . Green talk. . . Council Members Brewster McCracken and Lee Leffingwell and Mayor Will Wynn will hold a press conference at 10:30am today to discuss Austin Energy’s GreenChoice program. On Thursday, the Council will vote to direct Austin Energy to hold a drawing in March to add customers to the program, which has a limited supply available. Beginning this month, GreenChoice customers, whose electricity is fueled primarily by wind and biomass power, will pay less than customers whose power needs are met by conventional fuels. Those who join the program will pay a lower fuel charge for up to 10 years or until the price of conventional fuels, such as natural gas, declines . . . 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 the Waller Creek Plaza . . . The Solid Waste Advisory Commission meets at 6:30pm in room 105 at Waller Creek Plaza . . . The Telecommunications Commission meets at 7:30pm in room 1101 at City Hall . . . Endorsements. . . The Small Business Group, led by Mary Guerrero-McDonald, has endorsed Democrat Kirk Watson for Senate District 14 and Republican Ben Bentzin for State Rep. District 48 . . . Early vote . . . More than 2,400 voters have cast ballots so far in the special election to fill the House District 48 seat. As of Tuesday night, 888 voters had cast early ballot at the Randall’s on Bee Cave, where the vote tends to be more Democratic than Republican. Kelly Fero, spokesman for Democrat Donna Howard said his party has reason to be optimistic even though there are two Democrats in the race. However, Bentzin still likely has the edge in next Tuesday’s election to fill the seat vacated by Republican Todd Baxter. All four candidates—Howard, Bentzin, Democrat Kathy Rider and Libertarian Ben Easton—are expected to participate in a candidate forum at the Carruth Administration Building, 1111 W. 6th Street, at 6pm tonight. On Tuesday, Travis County Democratic Party Chair Chris Elliott sent a letter to Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce officials protesting the chamber’s decision not to televise the forum. The decision was made at the request of the Bentzin campaign. (See In Fact Daily, Jan. 10, 2006.) . . . Eanes candidate forum . . . Another District 48 candidate forum is scheduled for 7pm Thursday night at Westlake High Schoo l. The forum is sponsored by the Eanes ISD Board of Trustees and the West Lake Hills Chamber of Commerce. All four candidates have been invited and a news release states that the a taping of forum will be available on Time Warner Cable digital Video on Demand (Channel 1400) starting Saturday . . . More help for New Orleans . . . Austin’s nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes is following up its service to Gulf Coast hurricane victims by expanding into New Orleans. MLF founder and president Alan Graham and about a dozen volunteers will deliver a new catering truck to Trinity Episcopal Church in New Orleans on January 17. In addition to the new catering truck, Mobile Loaves & Fishes will deliver three truckloads—about 60,000 pounds—of donated books, collected by the Texas Library Association for hurricane-devastated libraries in and around New Orleans. The New Orleans chapter will be Mobile Loaves’ first outside of Texas . . . Chamber honors Powers . . . The Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce has named Pike Powers the 2005 Austinite of the Year. The award will be given at the Chamber’s 128th Annual Meeting on January 30 at the Hilton Austin. “The face of the Austin region would look much different than it does today if it weren’t for the persistence and dedication of Pike Powers,” said 2005 Chamber Chair Kirk Watson. “Over the years, Powers has worked to improve and grow our region’s high tech community and economy.” Powers was Chair of the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce in 1989 after serving several terms as Vice-Chair for Economic Development. He currently serves on the board of the Greater Austin Economic Development Corporation which oversees the Opportunity Austin job creation program.

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