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Controversial Oak Hill Plan back before Council today

Thursday, August 21, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The Austin City Council will take up the Oak Hill Neighborhood Plan and the future land use map that goes with it today. However, a coalition of neighborhood residents and environmental activists is asking the Council to make changes to that FLUM or postpone a vote while those changes are worked out.


“The future land use map for Oak Hill would allow potentially tens of thousands of apartments and eight downtowns worth of office space in the Barton Springs watershed,” said Colin Clark with the Save Our Springs Alliance during a news conference at City Hall. “All of Oak Hill drains into the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer. What happens in Oak Hill affects the quality of water in Barton Springs and the Edwards Aquifer.”


Residents said they did not feel the FLUM accurately reflected the community concerns that were written into the neighborhood plan itself. “At the beginning, we saw citizens coming to the initial meetings of the neighborhood planning group…saying that they wanted things like open space, hill country ambience, and livable communities,” said Carol Cespedes with “But what we see coming out of the process, particularly with this future land use map, is quite different. It permits intense commercial development and intense apartment development along the major routes in Oak Hill.”


That disconnect, said Steve Beers with the Save Barton Creek Association, came from the process used to develop the FLUM. “If you ask every landowner ‘What do you want?’ they’re going to tend to want as much as they can get,” he said. “I think it’s an unintended consequence of their process.”


Beers was especially concerned with areas of the FLUM designated for mixed-use development. Since MU allows for a variety of development styles, he said, “If you plug in the numbers from the most intense zoning possible under this FLUM… you come up with something like 99,000 apartment units, which is staggering. We know that the SOS Ordinance will cram it down, but how much? And where will SOS apply?”


The prospect of more intense development is troubling to some Oak Hill residents. “They do want a few more amenities,” said Beki Halpin, who lives in Oak Hill. “But to give up what they like to be covered in amenities, that’s not what they had in mind. It could destroy the heart of Oak Hill, I think, which is the natural beauty of the area.”


On the other hand, several groups, including the neighborhood contact team, the Oak Hill Business and Professionals Association and the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods are more likely to support the increased density represented in the proposed FLUM.


During today’s zoning hearing, representatives of SOS and plan to present their alternatives to the Council. In lieu of a postponement, they have an itemized list of changes to the FLUM which they say would make the map more acceptable. “We believe that this can essentially be saved by not reducing anything from the entitlements of present landowners, but maintaining close to the current zoning along the highways and clustering development at nodes…as the Austin SMART Growth policy says should be done,” said Cespedes.


Some members of the Council have been studying the issues raised by the group. Council Member Lee Leffingwell told In Fact Daily that the Council could pass the FLUM, but leave blank significant portions of the map covering the area around ‘the Y’ and a tract called the West Park PUD. “The best solution is to change the whole pink area (on FLUM map this is the Y plus the West Park PUD) to master planning area or leave it blank,” he said. By inventing a new designation, the Council could temporarily bypass the issue of whether those areas would be set for mixed-use or multi-family. “To me it sounds like the same thing as leaving it blank, just calling it a different name, ‘master planning area’…the Oak Hill planning team suggested that term,” he said.


The West Park PUD is currently approved at SOS standards, which has a maximum impervious cover level of 25 percent. Any changes to that would require a super-majority vote from the City Council. Leffingwell said representatives of the property owners have indicated a desire to increase that impervious cover level to 39 percent.

Other Council members also indicated a willingness to move ahead with the FLUM while leaving portions of the map open for future discussion. “We really need to make sure that we’re moving in some direction,” said Council Member Laura Morrison, whose staff has been working on the plan with staffers in Council Member Sheryl Cole’s office.


“I’m hopeful that the Council will bring to resolution this very complicated issue and that we will act,” said Cole. “I want the whole FLUM ….I don’t know how much citizen comment we’re going to have, how much analysis we’re going to have. Some Council Members are examining this closely and I don’t know how much we’re going to get done (today), but I just want to get it done.”

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