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West Austin group worries about more medical offices

Monday, February 11, 2008 by Mark Richardson

An architect’s desire to build a new office on West 35th Street ran afoul of the Oakmont Heights Neighborhood Association at last week’s Zoning and Platting Commission meeting. However, with a prohibition on housing medical offices at the site, the Commission granted the zoning change request from SF-3 to LO-CO.


The neighborhood was not concerned with architect Denneson Colby’s request to build a 3,800 square-foot office building on the lot, but what kind of businesses might locate there in the future. Neighborhood association President Arten Avakian told the commission that there is already a problem in the area with overflow parking on neighborhood streets from businesses that front on West 35th Street.


“Our concern here is not so much with the planned project but is more about intent,” he said. “We have given him a list of prohibited uses we would like to see, but we have not been able to reach an agreement.”


Colby is purchasing the 50-by130-foot lot with the intention of demolishing the house on the lot to make way for his office building. He plans to have access to the office via the alley behind the building, with no entrance or exit to 35th Street. Two other businesses on that stretch of 35th Street have similar access.


“With the amount I am investing in this building, I am concerned about boxing myself in through zoning,” he said. “I am concerned about its marketability in the future, if I decide to sell.”


In his talks with the neighborhood, Colby had offered to ban a number of potential uses, among them medical offices over 5,000 square feet. However, that left the door open for medical offices under 5,000 square feet, something to which the neighborhood was strongly opposed.  


“They basically came back and wanted me to exclude all uses but what we want to build,” Conley said. “I don’t want to make a mistake in this zoning process that I will regret later.”


Avakian countered with a list of suggested exclusions, including commercial operation, communications services, medical offices, counseling services, civic uses, safety services and telecommunications towers.


Commissioner Keith Jackson pointed out that two of the items on the list, civic uses and telecommunication towers, are beyond the reach of the commission to regulate.


“Civic uses include religious gathering, and the city does not limit any kind of religious gathering,” he said. “And we can’t limit the location of telecommunications towers or other utilities.”


Chair Betty Baker asked Colby if he planned to put a medical office in his building. He said he had no plans to, but that could change.


“Well, zoning isn’t forever. It may last longer than most marriages, but it’s not permanent,” she said. “If your situation changes, you can come back here and ask for a change. The simplest thing we can do to make this happen is prohibit medical office uses.”


Colby agreed and the commission approved the zoning change on a 6-2 vote. Commissions Jackson and Jay Gohil voted no.

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