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Planners reject higher-density zoning for Fort Magruder

Thursday, June 26, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

At Planning Commission this week, agent Ron Thrower took another round – and another loss – on a potential zoning change for one tract of what was once the multi-tract Fort Magruder project near Ben White Boulevard.

The intention was to add a “V” to the zoning category on Fort Magruder 1, which would be equivalent to allowing VMU-type bonuses, such as density bonuses, on a non-VMU property. So Thrower was hoping to take one piece of property that was SF-3NP and change the zoning to GR-MU-V-CO-NP.

The GR-MU-V-CO-NP was proposed by staff and supported by the Dawson neighborhood. What Thrower proposed, as an alternative, was CS-MU-V-CO-NP.

That CS would give Thrower and his clients approximately twice the floor-to-area ratio and the possibility for a much larger project. The additional square footage would make the pursuit of affordable housing density bonuses much more likely on the site, Thrower said. And that density would be a good thing, given the tract’s proximity to – if not outright location on — Ben White Boulevard and South Congress Avenue. Thrower pursued the same arguments with the original Fort Magruder.

“If this is going to be GR zoning, my fear is that we’re going to end up with a small 2,500-square-foot single-story commercial building with parking in the front,” Thrower said. “The CS zoning will bring more density to the urban core. If we can’t bring the project in under VMU, at least we’d get some density.”

The CS category could provide up to 17,000 square feet of space on the property. That was more than enough to provide affordable housing, Thrower said. He noted that the project would be no taller than three stories.

But the Planning Commission – which had, coincidentally, just gotten a strong talking to by neighbors on South Lamar who said Council tended to ignore neighborhood plans – was inclined to support the Dawson neighborhood. And the Dawson neighborhood’s main complaint, it appeared, was that an actual project had not been proposed on the site and a preferred project would be residential.

Thrower got somewhat mixed neighborhood support on his proposal. As Planner Robert Levinski noted in his presentation, the vote for CS failed at the neighborhood level on a split of 12-17, with 1 person abstaining and two people having a conflict of interest. The same project in the GR category passed on a vote of 22-7, with 1 person abstaining and 2 claiming the same conflict of interest. Thrower’s project involves putting together existing properties from homeowners in the area.

Thrower did come prepared with his argument. He pointed out the surrounding uses: auto repair shop; closed bar; NAPA store; landscape contractor; welding shop.

One local homeowner who supported Thrower noted that about 80 percent of the property surrounding the Magruder parcel was either GR or CS. Another neighbor, representing the owner of the tract, said CS was a logical use to fully utilize the property. Neighborhood doubts – even as sketchy as they were – were enough to sway the commission.

Thrower even threw in a rebuttal where he put up a map and showed that only one adjacent property owner – out of dozen or so – actually actively opposed the zoning. Still, it was no dice with the Planning Commission.

“This is one of those rare occasions where the neighborhood association’s recommendation doesn’t seem to support the immediate neighbors,” Commissioner Jay Reddy admitted. “I guess one fact is that there isn’t a proposed project here.”

Commissioner Perla Cavazos also was not moved by the arguments, saying that Thrower had already made one round through the process and failed to convince the Council he deserved a CS zoning designation on the property.

“It seems like a stretch to come back in and ask for CS,” Cavazos said.

The final vote on the project was 8-0 in favor of GR zoning. Commissioner Clint Small had to leave the meeting early and was not present for the vote.

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