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ZAP approves zoning for Stratus apartments in SW Austin

Thursday, February 21, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The Zoning and Platting Commission has endorsed a zoning change for 33 acres of land on Amarra Drive near Southwest Parkway and Barton Creek Boulevard. Owner Stratus Properties is seeking to develop the lot with a 215-unit apartment complex under MF-1 zoning.


The review by the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department supported the request for MF-1 since there are several factors limiting potential development on the site. “This will comply with the Save Our Springs Ordinance, which limits impervious cover to 20 percent,” said Wendy Rhoades with NPZD. “It is also subject to Hill Country Roadway restrictions, and there are height limits and a vegetative buffer that is required in proximity to Southwest Parkway. There are also steep slopes on the property which also will limit development.”


The lot has been zoned development reserve (DR) since it was annexed into the city limits more than 20 years ago.


Representatives of the Save Barton Creek Association and the Sierra Club opposed the requested zoning, and sought to have the case postponed indefinitely. Kedron Touvell, representing SBCA, told Commissioners the entire project should be placed on hold while the city drafted new land use regulations for the area.


“We need a focused effort to assess and integrate low impact development methods for developing environmentally vulnerable sites,” Touvell said. “These improved methods are part of the Planning Commission’s work plan for 2008.”


Touvell also said additional study was needed of the impact of development in the neighborhood. “SBCA recommends against up-zoning from DR until the city provides land use planners and policy makers the tools and data to understand the bottom line for cumulative development in the area,” he said. “We need this information to reach a workable sense of the capacity and sustainability limits for the area.”


However, Stratus Properties’ agent attorney Steve Drenner said it would be unreasonable to ask his client to wait for a re-write of the city code or the conclusion of a study that has not even begun.


“What they are really asking us to do is to wait until a large portion…if not all…of this watershed is restudied. I’m aware of no formal process where that has even begun,” he said. “They are also asking us to wait until some new strategy of development…’low-impact development’…which I think means a lot of different things to different people, can be analyzed and potentially turned into code.”


After the commission declined to postpone the case, other SBCA members argued that developing the 33-acre tract with 215 units would bring too much density to the site and too much traffic to the surrounding neighborhood.


“There are beautiful, beautiful, beautiful homes in the area now. They are estates,” said Pam Thompson. “It is not out of keeping for this to be an area where there are estates instead of apartments. And I think if you could keep the trips per day down, it would be very helpful.”


But Drenner argued that the 215 units planned for the site would be clustered in the two flat areas on the tract, while developing the site with single-family homes would require construction on slopes that could be more environmentally harmful. The requested zoning of MF-1, he said, was compatible with other zoning along Southwest Parkway.


“You see a mix of more intensive uses including LR, GR, SF-6, LO. I think a fair look at this map would suggest MF-1 is a low-intensity use for Southwest Parkway,” he said. “We thought we were picking something that would be non-controversial because it would be low-impact.”


The commission endorsed the requested change on a vote of 6-0, capping the number of units at 215 and limiting the site to 2,000 trips per day through a conditional overlay. Since the property is along a road designated as a Hill Country Roadway, the site plan for the project will eventually have to be brought before the ZAP for approval.

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