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Council finally approves zoning on former state land, limiting some access

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 by Mark Richardson

After some last-minute negotiations, the City Council agreed to rezone a pair of controversial tracts of land for development, but only after a battle among the neighborhood association, the developers and cycling proponents.


Formerly the site for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Warden Training Facility, the tracts in question are on 51st Street near the University of Texas Intramural Tennis Courts.


The site is split into two distinct tracts, with apartment buildings planned for the tract closest to the intramural fields, and townhomes slated for the property nearest Rowena Street. Nikelle Meade, an attorney for the developer, said the proposal calls for about 140 units, depending on the configuration of those units.


The developer and the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association had worked out a deal that would prohibit vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian access on part of East 50th Street.  The prohibition became public knowledge when the zoning came to the Council for first reading on April 24.  That set off a spate of protests from bicycling interests, who claimed the prohibition went counter to the city’s goals of diverse modes of transportation.


The provision was presented as a compromise between Hyde Park and the developer to address concerns about parking overflow onto Rowena Street, which lacks sidewalks and is already crowded with parked cars.


However, earlier in the week, the Hyde Park Neighborhood Association pulled out of the agreement, saying it had concerns over parking, traffic, and the effect on Waller Creek. That could leave the development with only a single access point on 51st Street.


But as the item came before Council recently, the neighborhood and the developer appeared to have finally reached a truce. Meade said they had reached an agreement on the site area requirements, allowing 139 units on the tracts. Minimum site area required for residential dwelling unit would be 2,400 square feet for a two bedroom or larger unit, 2,000 square feet for a one bedroom unit and 1,600 square feet for an efficiency unit. The balance of the original agreement was intact.


Cyclists’ interests appear to have been left out of the final agreement, but neighborhood advocates had argued that there was not enough room to add the bike lanes. No specific bicycling group got involved in the argument, although some neighborhood cyclists protested during the process.


Council Member Sheryl Cole asked Meade about the traffic analysis for the area. Meade said the overall assessment was that the intersection of Rowena and 51st Street is operating at an “A.”


“The five-way intersection up the street at Duval is operating at a ‘C’, which is also an acceptable level,” she said “They (the engineers) also concluded that the proposed development at 140 units was not going to have a significant impact on the traffic situation.”


Cole moved to approve the item on second and third reading with the addition of 10 percent extra parking for guests. The item was approved on a 7-0 vote.

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