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Planning Commission OKs Zilker area apartment zoning

Wednesday, October 29, 2008 by Austin Monitor

The Planning Commission is recommending a zoning change from MF-4 to MF-6-CO for a SMART housing development on Lamar Square Boulevard. The recommendation comes with a list of conditions requested by the Zilker Neighborhood Association, which includes a stipulation that the zoning not be used to set a precedent for other high-density residential zoning in the area.


The Mary Lee Foundation, a non-profit group devoted to helping those with disabilities, has plans for the property at 1330 and 1332 Lamar Square Blvd. The group already operates an apartment complex on that street with 96 units for people on Social Security Disability or the working poor.


Leaders of the Zilker Neighborhood Association said they would welcome a new, 64-unit apartment complex to help the group fulfill its mission. However, they do not want other developers pointing to the presence of MF-6 as a justification for more high-density projects in their neighborhood.


“We are very supportive of and very eager to have the Mary Lee Foundation project completed. It provides affordable housing to a lot of people who don’t have cars,” said Lorraine Atherton, the newly elected Co-President of the ZNA.  “When our membership voted on this, it was clear that the ‘no precedent’ clause was very important to them. We’re very sensitive to the desire of those neighbors backing up to these properties that they not be pressured to negotiate a very tall building, and MF-6 does allow very tall buildings.” The list of conditions negotiated by the ZNA also includes a height limit for the project.


The city staff recommended four of the five conditions requested by the Zilker Neighborhood Association. Those were setting a 60-foot height limit, capping the number of units at 64, setting a maximum floor-to-area ratio of 0.84 to 1, and maintaining MF-4 development regulations. The staff did not agree with the request that city staff not consider the MF-6 zoning when considering zoning for nearby properties. The staff described that stipulation as “legal, but ill-advised.”


A similar no-precedent ruling was made part of the city’s recently adopted ordinance governing an architectural feature unique to theatres known as a fly tower. However, Commission Chair Dave Sullivan pointed out that “the fly tower is a use, whereas MF-6 is a zoning category.”


Some commissioners were reluctant to adopt the no-precedent clause as part of their recommendation on the grounds that it might encourage others to come forward seeking special no-precedent zoning changes. “This is the second time this has been brought up…the non-precedent, starting with the fly tower,” said Commissioner Clint Small. “Are we going to have this same discussion on a non-precedent…and trying to decide if each project is bringing something that is of value to the community?” Commissioners Small, Chris Ewen, and Jay Reddy opposed adding that no-precedent stipulation to their recommendation to the City Council, but were out-voted.


After considering that side issue, the commission voted unanimously to send the case to the Council with a recommendation for MF-6-CO with all of the conditions requested by the Zilker Neighborhood Association. “We recognize the social good of the applicant,” said Commission Chair Dave Sullivan. “If we base our support on that this is a charitable use…that is the only precedent we are establishing. If somebody is providing a public good, we are willing to consider a specially-tailored condition.”

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