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ZAP OKs zoning for large mixed-use development on South MoPac

Wednesday, November 19, 2008 by Mark Richardson

After receiving advice from the counsel, the Zoning and Platting Commission voted Tuesday to recommend approval of a request for PUD zoning for the planned Wildflower Commons development in Southwest Austin. Save Our Springs Alliance Executive Director Bill Bunch raised several legal issues about the project, and commissioners went into an executive session to get some advice before making a decision.


In a public hearing, Bunch questioned the legality of the posting for the meeting, and challenged several assertions made by the developer regarding what was and was not legal in the area he is developing.


Walters Southwest plans a 257-acre mixed-use development at the intersection of South MoPac Boulevard and the planned route for State Highway 45. Wildflower Commons includes five parcels of land to be considered a single tract for purposes of a PUD. It is bisected by the SH 45 right-of-way in an area that is over the Barton Springs segment of the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone.


Its location makes both the Save our Springs Ordinance and the so-called Bradley Agreement applicable. That agreement settled a number of lawsuits between the city and developer Gary Bradley in 2000.  The development had been pending on the ZAP schedule for almost two years before Tuesday night’s hearing.


Steve Drenner, attorney for the developer, told commissioners that the project is being designed to keep the buildings within a 150-acre construction zone, and leave 100 acres as a conservation easement. Walters Southwest plans to build up to 550 residential condominiums or townhomes, 124,000 feet of general office space, 100,000 square feet of supermarket, a 360,000 square-foot shopping center and 40,000 square feet of high-turnover restaurant space.


Drenner said that even though the developer is allowed up to 18 percent impervious cover under the Bradley Agreement, they would be limiting it to 15 percent, or approximately 37.99 acres.


SOS’s Bunch told the commissioners that the posting for the item on the agenda was too vague, noting that it stated only that “PUD zoning may also modify City ordinances applicable to the development of the land.” He asserted that they should have been much more specific on what parts of the PUD they were going to discuss.


He also claimed that the developer was omitting the amount of impervious cover that the right-of-way for SH 45, which will be built through the project, would add. Bunch claimed they were “front-loading” the impervious cover before the highway is built in order not to have to count it later. He said the developer was planning MF-6 density on the site, which he said violated the Bradley Agreement, and also disputed the developer’s estimate of daily traffic at the site.


The commission adjourned into a brief executive session with Assistant City Attorney Tom Nuckols, then emerged to further discuss the legal points brought up by Bunch. Nuckols said the posting was proper from a legal standpoint, though the commission could postpone and instruct staff to repost for a future meeting. However, the commission showed little enthusiasm for that option.


Staff also said that after a review of the Bradley agreement, the potential impervious cover from a completed SH 45 was calculated in the tracts of land when they were included in the document.


In his rebuttal, Drenner said the only reason he was applying MF-6 standards was to gain the necessary height for the project. He said under the agreement, the only type of residential development allowed was single-family condominiums or townhouses. He also stood behind his estimate that PUD zoning would allow him to reduce the daily trip total from 47,000 to 31,000.


Commissioner Donna Tiemann questioned Drenner on the amount of cut and fill planned at the site. He said that developer planned to cut and fill on less than 3 percent of the construction zone. However, she was not concerned with the amount so much as the depth, noting that they were requesting the ability to cut and fill at depths between 10 and 15 feet.


Another sticking point was that the developer, who is planning to give some 7.6 acres of land to the Hill Country Conservancy to help them complete the “Walk for a Day” trail through the area, does not want to comply with the Parks and Recreation parkland dedication regulations. Drenner said they were already donating the HCC land and setting up 100 acres of conservation easement.


Commission members decided to bypass that argument, and stipulated that the developer work that problem out with PARD before the matter goes to City Council.


Commissioner Keith Jackson moved to accept the staff’s recommendation on the project. The commission voted 5-1 to approve, with Tiemann voting no and Jay Gohil absent. The project now goes to City Council, possibly before the end of the year.

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