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Allandale hesitant to allow VMU zoning on Burnet Road

Friday, May 16, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

For every neighborhood, choice exists when it comes to opting in or out of the city’s vertical mixed-use zoning. It became clear at this week’s Planning Commission meeting that for the Allandale Neighborhood, that means a lot of opting out.

While neighbors along Burnet Road – Rosewood and Brentwood – took a highly favorable view toward vertical mixed-use development, Allandale was a bit more skeptical about high- density development, possibly because of the controversy over Wal-Mart at Northcross.

In any case, the Allandale neighborhood seems a bit more resistant to the concept of density along the major corridors in their neighborhoods, even along the Burnet Road corridor, which planners see as ideal for redevelopment.

For Allandale residents appearing at the commission, even the redevelopment of a 22-acre former drive-inn movie theater lot would be too much density for the neighborhood, an assumption gently questioned by Commissioner Jay Reddy and Chair Dave Sullivan. An agent representing the property owner also asked for greater development latitude.

Of the developable 122 acres along Burnet Road, Allandale residents found reason to opt out of 81 acres, leaving only 41 acres for vertical mixed-use development. Allandale residents used a variety of reasons to exempt property: shallow lots; eclectic businesses; the compatibility with local neighbors.

Allandale Neighborhood Association President Tom Linehan noted that the exclusion of property along Burnet Road from the VMU category only involved 30 percent of the total developable land. Those properties that were excluded were often shallow lots that would yield the most sacrifice for the least gain, in the opinion of the neighborhood leaders.

The choice to exclude the 22-acre lot of the Burnet Self-Storage on Burnet – a former drive-in movie theater – was the most surprising. Neighbor Katie Hampson insisted the property would be inappropriate for vertical mixed-use zoning, even when Sullivan asked whether six-story commercial zoning could be any worse than the vertical mixed-use zoning with some kind of compatibility buffer.

Neighbors were particularly concerned that current city plans only addressed the mitigation of a 25-year flood on the property. Members of the Planning Commission pointed out that new development on the property could actually pull up some of the 95 percent impervious cover on the site and add flood controls, which would address the neighborhood flooding issue.

Allandale’s goal to meet the compatibility targets was to cluster high-density development around two nodes – Anderson at Burnet and North Loop at Burnet – instead of along the Burnet Road corridor. Hampson said the neighborhood’s goal was to help the city hit its density target without affecting single-family neighborhoods. For Allandale, that meant excluding numerous properties.

Specifically, Allandale removed what it considered shallow lots along the corridor. Some of those lots were 35 feet from single-family homes; some were as little as 5 feet from homes in the adjoining neighborhoods. While vertical-mixed use might increase the value of the land along Burnet, it would do nothing but decrease the desirability of land in the adjoining neighborhoods, Hampson said.

“Those adjacent properties would suffer from a loss of quality of life,” Hampson said. “People won’t choose to move there. So you would have appraisals that might be higher but resale values that would be lower.”

The Planning Commission did end up approving the Allandale Neighborhood Association’s proposal, although new Commissioner Clint Small attempted to try to include the 22-acre Burnet Self-Storage lot for possible VMU redevelopment. That motion failed.

On the final motion, the Planning Commission approved VMU along Burnet Road, with exclusion for shallow lots, high traffic and, in the case of the Burnet Self-Storage Facility, an assumed lack of access and proposed flooding and compatibility issues with any potential VMU development. The matter will now go to the City Council for a final decision.

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