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Windsor Park opposes Manor Road housing project

Friday, May 30, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

Frank Fernandez – well thought of by city officials because of his innovative homeless projects across Austin –met with some stiff opposition from the Windsor Park neighborhood at Tuesday night’s Planning Commission meeting.

Fernandez’s Community Partnership for the Homeless wants to build an $8.6 million, 110-efficiency unit project on Manor Road in the Windsor Park neighborhood. It is a daunting project on four acres of land, even to city staff. Under the staff recommendation, one parcel would be zoned high-density residential development, while the other two would be zoned for mixed-use use.

Even then, the tracts would back up to a modest single-family family community, where the new project would be a significant encroachment on the neighborhood, according to the documentation presented to Planning Commission on Tuesday night.

Community Partnerships has done its best to allay the neighborhood’s fear, promising a property that would be well maintained, properly monitored and supported by 24-hour staffing. As permanent housing, it would support long-term residents who maintain a record of residential stability, sobriety and the ability to pay rent, possibly low-income seniors.

According to the Windsor Park neighborhood site, however, the neighborhood voted close to unanimously to oppose the development. The standard form letter sent to city staff noted that Windsor Park was “at a tipping point,” already saturated by all forms of transitional, supportive, group, subsidized, halfway and rehabilitative housing.

Paul Saldaña, who represented a coalition of northeast business owners, noted that approving any zoning change at Planning Commission would jump the gun on state low-interest bonds, which would be part of the project’s funding package. Saldaña noted that the project had scored at the bottom of six eligible projects. He called for an indefinite postponement.

The preference of the community, Saldaña said, would be to engage a third-party facilitator to negotiate between the neighborhood and the project.

Fernandez disputed Saldaña’s claim on funding, saying that three of the projects on the list for state low-interest loan funding were already funded, putting the Windsor Park project third in line for potential funding. And, of course, Fernandez does have a long history of successful homeless and temporary housing projects in Austin. He noted that he had met with the community more than a dozen times to explain the project’s goals and terms.

An indefinite postponement clearly was not going to happen. But Council’s summer break was a key issue in Fernandez’s argument. Fernandez needed to get his funding together by the end of July. Between now and then was a month-long Council break. And without the zoning change, it was highly unlikely the state would consider the funding at all.

Commissioner Clint Small made a motion that would delay the project past its end of July deadline for its funding package. That motion failed. Then, after some discussion of terms, it was decided June 10 would be the last meeting the Planning Commission could consider the zoning change, still get it onto Council before summer break and, hopefully, get it approved on all three readings by the super-majority of Council on one night.

Commissioner Perla Cavazos’ motion also provided for the city to offer a facilitator to help Fernandez and the community to reach some type of solution. That would have to happen by June 10 in order to be on the Council’s June 18 agenda.

Commissioners approved the motion on a 7-1 vote with Jay Reddy opposed and Saundra Kirk absent.

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