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Council rejects dense zoning for NACA area tract

Friday, March 28, 2008 by Mark Richardson

It seems Holly Armstrong got things a bit backwards. She wanted to develop a tract of land on Macmora Road into a complex of retirement townhouses at the suggestion of a couple of her friends who are getting ready to retire. However, she went straight to seeking a zoning change without first developing a plan or contacting the local homeowners association.


Saying a consultant was too expensive, Armstrong took her case to the Planning Commission and then City Council. But at both junctures, she ran into stiff opposition from her potential neighbors and the North Austin Civic Association. And ultimately, her case was denied.


Armstrong, a real estate agent and developer, bought the 2.66-acres tract on Macmora Drive about 18 months ago, and only recently considered developing a retirement community, she said. Her first problem was the location, in the middle of a serene North Austin neighborhood known for its low density and green space.


She was apologetic about her lack on knowledge about the process and not making contact with the neighborhood association earlier, but it didn’t seem to help. Members of the North Austin Civic Association lined up to protest the move, even before she could show them what she planned to do.


“This is the last remnant of a farming community before Austin annexed it in the 1960s,” said Joshua Talent, a neighbor of the tract and member of NACA. “Townhouses on that tract would dwarf the smaller houses nearby. It’s a part of a growing encroachment by the city that threatens to envelop what’s left of our neighborhood’s green spaces.”


Armstrong said she went to the city’s Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department and discussed her idea with city staff. She decided, based on that conversation, to file for a zoning change from SF-1 to SF-6. However, without discussing her plans with NACA, it was assumed that she might use the upzoning to build as many as 30 units on the property.


The Planning Commission approved her zoning request, but after much discussion, that board put a 15-unit limit on the development. Still, her potential neighbors were not swayed.


Sean Walker, who said he grew up in the neighborhood and still lives there, said the NACA Future Land Use Map does not project that kind of density into that neighborhood.


“There has always been a lot of green space in that area,” he said. “We want to maintain the area’s rural character as long as we can. Our neighborhood plan pushes the density out to Lamar. We want to keep it there.”


Council Member Brewster McCracken agreed. “We have to look at the project from a land use planning point-of-view,” he said. ”We need to maintain the large-lot character of this area, and identify where we want density and where we don’t. And this is not where we want it.”


McCracken then moved to deny the SF-6 zoning request. The Council agreed unanimously.

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