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ZAP recommends Northeast area condo project

Monday, December 4, 2006 by

The Zoning and Platting Commission has given its approval for the owner of a vacant tract on Harris Ridge Boulevard in Northeast Austin to go ahead with plans to develop 167 condos on part of the site. The land is currently undeveloped, and the ZAP voted 9-0 to change the zoning on part of the tract from LI-CO to SF-6.

“Harris Ridge is a 36-acre residential condominium community that will look and feel like a detached single-family community,” said attorney Henry Gilmore, who represented the applicant. The SF-6 zoning will allow the developer to cluster the condos, since part of the site is in the flood plain. Each home, Gilmore said, would be between 1,100 and 1,500 square feet and sell for between $130,000 and $150,000. “We want to come in and promote affordable home ownership.” The portion of the tract proposed for the SF-6 borders on land in Travis County that is developed with single-family homes.

The site was zoned LI-CO in 2004 and has an approved site plan for an office-warehouse complex that was filed before the area was annexed. The developers plan to keep part of the site LI-CO and proceed with construction of part of that complex. The primary issue considered by the ZAP was how best to separate those light-industrial uses from the residential development. City staff proposed a 100-foot buffer separating the two tracts along with normal set-back requirements. Gilmore, a partner with DuBois, Bryant, Campbell & Schwartz, suggested a series of alternatives, including a masonry wall, an alleyway, and other buffering measures that would yield 123 feet of separation.

“It seems a little odd to me to juxtapose LI to the single family, even a dense regime like you’re proposing,” said Commissioner Clarke Hammond. “I think your proposed buffering is fine, I just don’t see a lot of LI around here that’s developed as LI.” Gilmore said neighboring tracts across Howard Lane did have LI uses, including shipping and warehouse facilities.

On a motion from Commissioner Keith Jackson, the commission voted 9-0 to support the down-zoning of part of the tract from LI-CO to SF-6 with set-back distance proposed by the applicant. Commission Chair Betty Baker sought additional reassurances that some of the additional buffering measures, such as the masonry wall, would actually be constructed since those physical barriers would not be part of the zoning ordinance.

“I’ve seen site plans in the past that have been presented to us that have been beautiful, and then when you go out and look at it, you think maybe you were at another meeting,” she said. “It didn’t quite turn out the same way.” But after discussion with staff and other members of the Commission, Baker came to the conclusion that those physical buffers could not be made a part of the zoning case.

“I didn’t even look at those pictures,” Jackson said. “My view here was that it’s probably better to have SF-6 next to the SF-3 than the existing LI.”

Elgin eyes land for possible Cap Metro rail station

The Elgin Economic Development Corporation has secured an option to purchase 85 acres of undeveloped land along the railroad line currently used by Capital Metro for its freight service. That purchase will give the EDC control of the property, making it easier to promote transit-oriented development should those tracks eventually be used for commuter rail service instead of freight.

“We are excited about the potential for transit-oriented development in our community, and we want to encourage the creation of new commercial investment to generate jobs, diversify the tax base, and create opportunities for our citizens,” said Elgin EDC President Sylvia Ramirez. The EDC is funded by a half-cent sales tax in Elgin and charged with recruiting new businesses to the community.

While Capital Metro has not yet announced any plans for extending commuter service to Elgin, that option is listed as one of several possibilities in the 2004 documents outlining the “All Systems Go” plan. Both Manor and Elgin are along Capital Metro’s freight line, and the “All Systems Go” plan states that “Capital Metro is collaborating with other regional transportation organizations to determine the future of these lines.” As it did with the “Red Line” between Leander and downtown Austin, Capital Metro would be required to hold a public election before initiating passenger service along the line to Elgin.

Elgin City Manager Jeff Coffee said his city had studied Leander’s actions surrounding the new rail line closely. “If you look at the land values in Leander as they began to talk seriously about commuter rail, the value of the land increased dramatically,” he said. “It is the hope that the EDC, by securing the right to purchase the property now, will see the benefit of those increased land values.”

Along with the control over zoning and tenants that comes with ownership of the property, Coffee also said the property could be leveraged to help cover the cost of bringing commuter rail to the eastern portion of Travis County. “At this point it’s too early to tell,” he said, “but it’s certainly possible that they could sell the property back into the private sector and use those funds to reinvest in infrastructure to bring the commuter rail to Elgin.”

Elgin already has two historic train depots in its downtown area, one of which is on the Capital Metro line. The option to purchase the 85 acres is a major step for the community, said Coffee, but one that could play a major role in helping the town of 8,000 people preserve its character. “If you look at Envision Central Texas regional planning, there’s a great deal of emphasis on providing increased density in the existing population centers,” he said. “We certainly see that this is an opportunity to do that.”

For more information on the EDC, go to http://www.elgintx.com/economicdevcorp.html.

Travis JPs brace for influx of toll road tickets

Travis County Commissioners are planning for 2007, when drivers using US-183A, SH-130, and the first leg of SH-45 will have to begin paying tolls. Under current state law, any drivers who receive a ticket for driving on those roads without paying the toll will be referred to the county’s Justice of the Peace courts, which commissioners say are not prepared to handle the volume of tickets that will result from the new toll roads.

“Just SH-130, SH-45 North, and MoPac are going to kill the JP courts,” said Commissioner Karen Sonleitner. “They warned us during the last budget process that if we do not see relief, we will see the impacts hit us mid-year…and they would absolutely become issues for next year’s budget.”

That relief for the JP’s would be to set up a separate administrative hearing for accused toll violators. But creating that system requires approval from the Texas Legislature. While the county had that on its list of legislative priorities during the last session, the bill did not become law. So commissioners are adding it to their list of priorities for the upcoming session, which begins in January. The goal is to have the measure passed as a separate, local item early in the session. “If this waits until the end of the session, we’re going to have some very unhappy JP’s in Travis County,” Sonleitner said.

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

Lorenz, Warshaw stick with Nathan and Blizzard . . . Perry Lorenz and Larry Warshaw, two of the partners in the Spring condo project downtown, have teamed up with restaurateur Rick Engel to develop 'BartonPlace' at 1600 Barton Springs Road, near Zilker Park. Engel is the owner of several local restaurants, including Austin Java, Little Woodrow's, and Paggi House. Consultants Mike Blizzard and Mark Nathan are working with the developers to secure MF-6 zoning at a height of 75 feet on the project, which will include 250 condominium units. Nathan and Blizzard helped secure the zoning change for the Spring project and both worked on the successful city bond election in November. Developers say they plan to provide pedestrian access to the Town Lake Hike and Bike Trail through the property. Engel said he became interested in working with Lorenz and Warshaw's partnership, Constructive Ventures, while putting an Austin Java in their new East 6th Street development known as Este. The new partnership is purchasing land for 'BartonPlace' from Toomey Road Partners, whose president is Susan Toomey Frost. Frost had been approached by numerous developers about purchasing the family's trailer park . . . Big loser . . . Looking slim at last week's City Council meeting, Capitol Metro's Matt Curtis said he has lost 72 pounds since June. He is part of a group of large local guys, called One Ton of Fun, exercising and watching their diets in an effort to see who can slim down the most. He plans to lose an additional 72 pounds before he's done. Curtis was at the meeting for the discussion of rail plans during the Redeemer Presbyterian Church's zoning case. (A final decision was postponed. See In Fact Daily, Dec. 1, 2006.) . . . Meetings . . . The Austin Music Commission meets at 6pm in the Boards and Commissions Room at City Hall . . . The S altillo District Redevelopment Project Community Advisory Group meets at 9:30am at the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corporation, 1000 Lydia St. . . . Create Austin . . . The City if Austin's "Create Austin" Community Cultural Planning Project meets for the first time this week. Professionals in the arts, culture and creative industries are invited to round table meeting to discuss arts and culture issues. This public forum is targeted to individuals that work in the arts, culture and creative industries in Austin, such as musicians, artists, dancers, actors, filmmakers, game designers, etc. The meeting is scheduled for 7pm Wednesday in the Third Floor Training Room at One Texas Center. Organizers ask that participants RSVP by today. To RSVP, call 974-7875 or e-mail taja.beekley@ci.austin.tx.us. There will be additional public meetings throughout the year. . . Memorial service for Medders today . . . Staunch union man and campaign activist Tom Medders died of a heart attack two weeks ago. His memorial service will from 3-6pm today at Glen Bell Service Center 3907 South Industrial Dr, Suite 100. Call 972-1060 for directions.

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