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URB chair wonders if property owners getting a fair shake

Wednesday, July 30, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The Urban Renewal Board discussed several possible amendments to restrictions for properties along East 12th Street at its meeting last week, but Chair Kevin Cole wanted to make certain that the process by which those proposed changes were heard was appropriate. His concerns arose after a property owner said he feared that his proposal would not get a URB hearing after the Austin Revitalization Authority rejected it at an earlier meeting.


Cole examined almost every action or amendment proposed at the meeting. That included a proposal from ARA’s Executive Director Byron Marshall to discard parking requirements for a historic house. It also included pre-hearing comments in which Cole insisted that Council should not be approached to make zoning changes on a property until a property owner with land under the district’s jurisdiction is included in the public participation process. Cole is married to Council Member Sheryl Cole.


However, the main discussion was for increased height and other exceptions for a local gas station. Cole’s directive would mean any change to the properties would go through either the ARA or the Urban Renewal Board, if not the Planning Commission, before being considered by the Council.


Cole was less than impressed with recent actions by City Council, which included approval of changes in the Neighborhood Conservation Combining District. Cole said that vote occurred well after midnight – and with only the persuasion of the property owner – and without public participation.


He told the small audience at the URB he wanted to make sure that two proposed amendments for property along East 12th Street – a slight height increase and a proposal to allow additional uses for a current gas station – had a right to a hearing before the Urban Renewal Board, even though the recommended changes had failed to win support of the ARA board in May.


“These are serious meetings,” Cole assured the audience, later adding, “Just because the ARA does not approve it does not mean those proposals are dead in the water. You have the right to propose amendments to the NCCD, and we want you to participate in those meetings.”


What emerged from testimony at the hearing was that no one appeared to back the 53-foot height proposal and no group came out in favor of it.


In addition, the 12th Street Merchants Association – which was credited with the opposition to the height increase on 12th Street – disavowed any vote on the issue. Instead, it appeared to be the statement of an individual member at the ARA’s meeting.


ARA’s Marshall apologized for the confusion, saying it was never his intention to imply the 12th Street Merchants Association supported something they did not.


As for the gas station re-zoning, that may be a more complicated issue. The property appeared to be zoned residential under future land use plans. The owner, represented by attorney Andy Martin, said the owner wanted to maintain its current use and had no intention to sell. Martin, a former City Attorney, is with Brown McCarroll.


In his brief remarks before the board, Martin said any problems with the property were the fault of a tenant. The owners never condoned the nuisance issues created by the current lessee, he said. Now the lease was over and the owner had more control of the property. The owner did not intend to sell the property in the near future, Martin told the board.


The ARA’s land use plan spoke of an upscale future use for the site, preferably residential. Given the value of the land, the use of the property as something low-end retail – say, even a car wash – did not appear to make much sense.


Still, to complicate the matter, the Robertson Hill Neighborhood Association presented its own comments, saying it would prefer to see the property dedicated to neighborhood uses, and that included local retail.


Next month, the Urban Renewal Board will make recommendations on the East 12th street properties.

Don’t forget the Whispers!

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