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Groups asking Council to reject Wildflower Commons PUD zoning

Thursday, January 29, 2009 by Austin Monitor

3:30pm Thursday

Attorney Steve Drenner, who represents the developer of the Wildflower Commons PUD, struck back at the Save Our Springs Alliance and other opponents of the development Thursday, telling In Fact Daily that the proposal is better for the environment than the original plan, requires no change to the Bradley agreement and would not create a shopping mall.


Representatives of Austin’s environmental

community—including the Save Our Springs Alliance, Save Barton Creek Association and the local chapter of the Sierra Club—held a news conference Wednesday to ask the Austin City Council to reject a zoning change for land at the intersection of MoPac and SH 45 in south Austin.


The land was the subject of a complex agreement between the city and developer Gary Bradley in 2000 that stipulated what could be developed on the site. The land is now owned by Walters Southwest, which is calling their proposed development the Wildflower Commons PUD. The property is of special concern for environmental groups because of its position in the Barton Springs recharge zone.


The PUD case has already cleared the Environmental Board and the Zoning and Platting Commission and goes to Council with staff support. The case is posted for first reading today, but Council Member Laura Morrison is expected to ask for a postponement until the Council’s next meeting on Feb. 12.


Although the land is in the area covered by the SOS Ordinance, it would not take a super-majority of six votes on the Council to change the zoning on the tract. City staffers familiar with the legal aspects of the case tell In Fact Daily the SOS Ordinance for that tract was previously amended by the Bradley agreement.


The proposal from Walters Southwest calls for office space, a supermarket, a shopping center, restaurants, and several hundred condominium units in a mixed-use project. The agent for the developer, attorney Steve Drenner, has said the new project would have less impervious cover than what is currently allowed and would also generate fewer trips than the mixture of office and single-family (SF-2) zoning outlined under the Bradley agreement. The developer is also offering to donate land to the Hill Country Conservancy for a hike-and-bike trail.


The retail component of the project is drawing criticism from some of the groups and individuals who worked on that agreement nearly nine years ago. “This is basically creating exactly the kind of commercial, high-density node…that it was the specific goal of the Bradley agreement to make sure we didn’t have that,” said Bill Bunch with SOS. “In essence, we’re throwing out a hard-fought compromise and protections under the guise of reducing impervious cover a few acres.”


While the owners of the land are legally allowed to request a zoning change from the Council, the environmental groups who fought to limit development on the site view it as an attempt to undo years of work. The Bradley agreement, said Robin Rather, “was considered ‘Mission Impossible’. It was considered impossible for a pragmatic group of people, a developer and his team, and the environmental community and its team to actually sit down together and work something out that settled the status of this particular piece of property.”


A new zoning of GR-MU, Rather said, would be a rejection of the work all sides put in to the process. “There’s no reason. In this case, the compromising has already been done. There is no grandfathering in place, there is no legislature breathing down our throat, there is no reason do to anything to this property other than what we have already agreed should be done,” she said.


While the mixed-use designation being sought by the developer for the project was not part of the city’s zoning code in 2000, former Council Member Jackie Goodman said it would not have been considered for the property even if it had been an option. “GR-MU came out of urban planning…it’s an urban concept, and it doesn’t belong on the aquifer,” she said.


The Save Barton Creek Association has passed a resolution asking the Council to reject the requested zoning change. Should the Council go ahead with the request, the SBCA urges members to delay granting any cut-and-fill variance until the project reaches the site plan stage. The resolution also calls on the City to wait to grant any variances until after a public site plan review by the city’s Boards and Commissions. The proposed PUD land-use plan, said Bunch, contains “variances and exemptions from our land-use and water quality protection ordinances. This is a veritable treasure trove of polluter loot buried in the fine print.”


The proposal does have some support within the community. The Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods passed a resolution in April of 2007 endorsing the project, in part because the new design would shift development within the site to tracts over the Slaughter Creek watershed and off of the Bear Creek Watershed.


Drenner could not be reached for comment Wednesday but he has successfully steered numerous projects through the slippery shoals of the city’s zoning process. The environmentalists at the press conference said it was significant that the matter had been placed on the Council agenda—indicating Drenner’s confidence that the measure would gain approval.

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