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Council approves Oak Hill plan, minus the controversy

Monday, August 25, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The Oak Hill Neighborhood Plan – which is turning out to be the mother of all neighborhood plans – will stretch across three Council meetings.

The 11,000-acre planning area is both massive and complicated, overlaid with environmental features and recharge zone complexities. It was labeled at last week’s Council meeting, rather kindly, “as the most unique neighborhood plan” to come into the city. The area is bounded by Southwest Park to the north; Barton Creek Greenbelt to the east; and FM 1826, Davis Lane, Claremont Drive, Convict Hill, Thomas Springs, Circle Drive and West View to the west.

And, for a neighborhood that has just suffered from its first case of minor retail blight, the goals of its neighborhood plan are ambitious. As Planner Maureen Meredith described, the goals of the plan were to provide for high quality new development and redevelopment, balanced with environmental protection, in an effort to maintain a vibrant residential and commercial community.

Last week, city staff offered answers to questions presented by Council. Affected rezoning of property was delayed a week, including contested cases. This week, Council is scheduled to consider all uncontested items – and those negotiated over the last week – and defer to some point in the future all contested cases from the future land use map and contested zoning cases.

During the overview of the Oak Hill Neighborhood Plan last Thursday night, staff members outlined a presentation that followed Council directives offered early in August: identify corridors along highways where strip center development should be encouraged; analyze the potential build-out of the proposed FLUM, according to the maximum development of the base district zoning, a significant issue in the Oak Hill discussion; and investigate the use of the Hill Country Roadway ordinance and how it could help the neighborhood achieve its goals.

Additionally, Council asked staff to explore the possibility of dedicating mitigation fees resulting from the redevelopment of properties in Oak Hill to purchase open space; and to provide a map that layers various maps within the plan, such as parks, transportation and future land use.

Meredith outlined the existing and proposed uses along Oak Hill’s major corridors, noting areas where lower intensity land use was recommended due to environmental features. Matt Hollon of Watershed Protection and Development Review presented what he called a rudimentary review of maximum build-out and impervious cover in Oak Hill.

“If the SOS Ordinance had been in place with no prior grandfathered development — that’s the Oak Hill area with its steep slopes and creek setbacks — and the various impervious cover limits would come in around 16 percent cover,” Hollon told Council, the maximum impervious cover in the area, in current conditions, would be around 25 percent. Even that is an overestimate that would require single-family homeowners “to rush out and build a deck or shed,” he said.

“On the other end, to bracket things further just to give a contrast, if all development had continued to use the early ‘80s ordinance… (the area) would come in at around 38 percent for this planning area, as a whole.”

Council Member Lee Leffingwell noted that the FLUM would not have an impact on impervious cover. The development would conform to the impervious cover limits, not vice versa.

Right now, Oak Hill is home to about 20,000 residential units for the entire 11,000-acre neighborhood planning area, Hollon told Council. The absolute, almost impossible-to-achieve, build-out would be another 19,000 units. A total of 11,000 units would be more reasonable, Hollon said, but added even that number was a bit high, even the number of units per acre.

On the commercial side, Hollon noted that the estimate presented by plan critics was another 42,000 multi-family units in Oak Hill, as well as 40 million square feet of retail. Given the current zoning, and likely impervious cover limits, the reality was about a quarter of those units and a tenth of that retail development. That’s based on current parameters.

On the issue of mitigation fees, staff based estimates on likely performance. According to a recently passed ordinance, a developer who chose to redevelop a site could keep prior impervious cover levels if he provided the city with the fees necessary to buy undeveloped land. So far, no one has taken advantage of the ordinance.

The cost of land over the Barton Springs zone, however, is $15,000 per acre. So the amount of mitigation land the fees could cover would be rather small, according to the city.

“So I think the summary of this is that this is not the right tool to buy land in Oak Hill with, for this purchase,” Hollon said. “It’s obvious that we in Watershed would support the purchase of parkland, purchase of greenbelts, but this is probably not the right source of revenue.”

On the topic of the Hill Country Roadway ordinance, George Zapalac of Watershed Protection and Development Review said the ordinance was limited to a handful of roadways but sought many of the goals that the Oak Hill plan might suggest: limitations on site development; an undisturbed vegetative buffer along the roadway; and the use of native plants.

Zapalac agreed the Hill Country Roadway ordinance would appear to meet many of the objectives of the Oak Hill neighborhood plan. Most of the properties along Highway 71, US 290 and FM 1826, however, already are developed. And many of the undeveloped parcels fall outside the city, which means that county regulations would apply. On the other hand, flood plains and critical water quality features would limit development on a number of tracts.

Zapalac noted that the city’s ordinance did not regulate signs. That fell under the scenic arterial ordinance, which does limit the size and placement of signs.

Greg Guernsey, director of Neighborhood Planning and Zoning, noted in his introduction that he lived in the Oak Hill planning area and did not participate in the planning effort.

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