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How dense can Mueller be?

Thursday, February 12, 2009 by Austin Monitor

The planners and developers of the Mueller PUD proposed changes to their plan at this week’s meeting of the Robert Mueller Municipal Airport Plan Implementation Advisory Committee, including asking for greater density in the town center.

ROMA’s Jana McCann explained to the committee that the amount of dwelling units and commercial space at Mueller still remain the same. All development must still conform to the limits of the PUD’s traffic study.

The original adoption of the PUD occurred in 2004. Two years ago, Catellus, the developer, began to meet with ROMA to consider changes to the plan. The companies want a chance to increase density in the town center, since it’s likely to have a rail station, and they want a denser residential area to increase affordability. The proposed changes would also pave the way for the 20-acre Austin Film Society property to use more space for production uses.

One of the new housing types proposed, the Paseo row house, would cut lot size down to 15 feet across and 40 feet deep. The housing would be up to three stories tall, which would still allow a significant percent of square footage. This housing would also require some zoning exceptions, such as the use of zero lot lines.

Committee Chair Jim Walker had two concerns. He wanted the affordability of these new smaller lot housing types guaranteed, which could be done in the request for bids. “We need to be putting a ceiling on the process so that they have to deliver a product within our price range,” Walker said. “I just want to hedge every bet we can to make sure we’re getting into that affordability gap.”

Walker also wants to be sure that an increase of medical office buildings just south of Seton in the Town Center would not make the area less attractive for pedestrians. He’s also afraid of medical offices creeping east into residential neighborhoods if the projects become highly lucrative.

Committee member Kevin Ludlow was not opposed to the new proposed smaller-lot housing, but he was concerned with the 65-foot height limit. If the intention is three-story buildings, he wanted that specified. “Why not just go ahead and say it’s only going to be three stories, if that’s what we intend to do?” Ludlow asked.

ROMA and Catellus were leery about pinning down such specifics in the PUD document, which outlines the outside limits of development. Walker agreed. If a PUD or neighborhood plan have too many details it can create a huge headache when things have to change, Walker told Ludlow. Still, the committee was open to such a prospect.

Both McCann and Matt Whelan, senior vice president of Catellus, assured the group that they also operated under stringent design standards and construction committee approval. McCann called it “the finer grain of design standards” that would guarantee the project’s integrity.

Still, Whelan and McCann agreed to come up with some language to define the intentions of the PUD, possibly in a separate document. That language will be reviewed by the PIAC at the next meeting on March 10.

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