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ZAP reluctantly approves Blarwood Forest subdivision

Friday, September 5, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The Zoning and Platting Commission was forced to approve a subdivision plan for the two-acre Blarwood Forest off Berkley Avenue in South Austin this week despite some major reservations about the project.

The plan included several last-minute variances approved by city staff in order to give the subdivision the ability to maintain its own detention pond. While planner Don Perryman called the variances related and typical, commissioners were less inclined to dismiss the exceptions. Or, in the words of Chair Betty Baker at the point of the vote, the commissioners had no choice on the variances and needed to “hold our noses and approve it.”

That did not stop new Commissioner Donna Tiemann from requesting a full update on the detention pond issue. Perryman said one reason why the variances weren’t included in the back-up of the agenda – the back-up described the variances as “pending” – was that negotiations with lot developer Bill Howell were ongoing, with the city asking Howell to provide a plan for maintenance of the ponds.

Commissioner Keith Jackson found it unusual to waive something like access to the pond by city vehicles. How were the ponds maintained, either by the developer or the city, if the access to the area was limited?

“We are looking at this criteria, having internal discussions about how these privately maintained ponds have performed over the years and the problems associated with them,” Perryman said. “We are studying that right now. However, for this situation, these waivers are no different from the waivers we have granted in the past.”

Even so, Baker found half-dozen waivers on one 2.5-acre lot to be excessive and said so. For instance, the city waived a 50-foot setback from the pond. That setback is probably in place for a good reason, Baker noted.

Her fellow commissioners appeared to agree, although Baker said the commission’s hands were tied because of the administrative nature of the variances. All the commission was expected to do was to approve the preliminary plan.

Tiemann, in particular, was interested in the city survey of ponds, predicting that the results from the review would be less than stellar.

Commissioners usually take comfort in the fact that waivers such as those on the Blarwood Forest subdivision would provide more land for development and greater affordability. However, Howell said the waiver would do no more than produce an extra couple of lots on the property – bringing the number up to 15 – and would not necessarily make the proposed 14 single-family attached lots more affordable.

Howell said detention ponds were less of an issue on what he called typical inner-city lot development. Baker dryly noted that far South Austin, off West William Cannon Drive and Manchaca Boulevard, could hardly be called “inner city.” Howell has developed similar projects on small parcels of land far closer to downtown Austin.

Under the plans for the subdivision, the homeowners association would create a restrictive covenant prior to final plat approval that would obligate the new homeowners to maintain the detention pond.

Tiemann asked for a detention pond update at ZAP’s next meeting. The preliminary plan was approved unanimously.

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