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Council approves expansion plans for Dell Jewish Community Center

Monday, September 29, 2008 by Mark Richardson

After a flurry of last-minute negotiations, the Dell Jewish Community Center and its surrounding neighborhoods worked out their differences Thursday evening and Council approved planned unit development (PUD) zoning for the center’s expansion. The “J,” as it is known, is planning to add a second synagogue, educational facilities, a day care center and recreational facilities over the next few years.

 

When the case was called up for a hearing, Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Director Greg Gurnsey told Council Members that the parties were in the City Hall foyer conducting discussions. Council members moved through several uncontested public hearings, and when they finished, the Dell Center parties had as well.

 

According to Zoning Manager Jerry Rusthoven, while the Dell Center and the Northwest Austin Civic Association reached an agreement in principle when the Zoning and Platting Commission approved the item in August, there were some 44 changes added to the agreement in the interim.

 

Richard Suttle, attorney for the Dell Center, said after much discussion, all the parties had reached an agreement,

 

“It’s a complicated case and we can all talk about it later,” he said. “But I would like to thank everybody that came out tonight and at the Planning Commission hearing. People gave their time from their families and their evening to come and either address you or show support. And many of these people do live in and around the campus and they will enjoy and appreciate the benefits.”

 

More than 100 people, sporting buttons supporting “J,” crowded into Council chambers to back the proposed expansion.

 

Major changes to the agreement included:

 

  • Up to eight new tennis courts are permitted and they may be lighted no later than 10pm;
  • The existing sidewalk on the west side of Hart Lane north of the southern most driveway to the north of the property line will be widened to five feet;
  • Applications for amendments to the PUD may only be filed once every 12 months unless the owner, the JCCA, has the approval of the Northwest Austin Civic Association;
  • Notification of any changes to the agreement or public hearings regarding the “J” must be made to households living within 1000 feet of its boundaries.

 

Following the reading of the additional conditions into the record, Council Member Randi Shade moved to accept the agreement and approve the PUD zoning for the Project. Council Member Sheryl Cole seconded the motion.

 

Mayor Will Wynn did allow one final citizen comment before the Council voted. Nicholas White asked Council members what guarantees they offered that the terms agreed to during the evening would be followed in the future.

 

“If the zoning changed, what stops the ‘J’s’ management, or future management from putting a lighted sports field right next to the homes or from putting multi-story buildings that are right next to neighbors?” he asked. “Or from having maybe too many 85-decibel events occurring or from selling off a parcel of the property in the future to a commercial developer? I don’t fully understand what stands in place from that not happening?”

 

Wynn offered White an explanation of how the city enforces its ordinances.

 

“There are big challenges from a municipal management standpoint when you have 20 square miles and 800,000 people and the fastest growing city in America policing that,” Wynn said. “We are always making sure that things are compliant as written to the letter of the law. It’s challenging. I think, overall, the city does a pretty good job based on all of those challenges. But this ordinance that will be written by our attorneys — and in theory signed by me in a few weeks if David Smith, city attorney, says that it accomplishes everything that we are talking about here legislatively — that is the protection.”

 

Council members approved the changes on a 7-0 vote.

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