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Planning Commission declines zoning change intended to increase land value

Thursday, May 14, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

On Tuesday night, the Planning Commission ruled that a house at 1503 West Ave should not get a zoning change that would allow it to be used as a commercial space. 

 

The owners were trying to change the zoning simply so they could sell the property for more money. The planning commission said that they were not going to approve a zoning change for the simple purpose of upgrading property values.

 

“The bottom line, for me, is the increased entitlements,” Commissioner Mandy Dealey said. “If there are increased entitlements, it should be of some benefit to the neighborhood and not just the property owner. We would be giving additional benefits without any benefit to the neighborhood. I think that it’s really important that this neighborhood be able to control its own destiny.”

 

This was the same case that the Historic Landmark Commission was deadlocked on. Commissioner Patti Hansen addressed it directly when the case landed at HLC, noting that the commission was charged with historic preservation, not zoning decisions.

 

Tuesday night, when the case hit the Planning Commission, and Commissioner Mandy Dealey had no problem offering a motion. Dealey is the Planning Commission’s representative on the downtown plan. She was especially sensitive to the fact that Judges Hill, the neighborhood that includes the relevant block of West Avenue, might actually end up being a local historic district.

 

The house at 1503 West Ave is only feet from Enfield. Even as Linette Beal-Stubbs put the house on market, it was advertised as a home in the process of obtaining “LO” zoning, giving the right for the owner to ask something close to $1,095,000 as a closing price on the property, more than $400 per square foot.

 

By comparison, comparable homes in the area are on the market for about $260 per-square-foot. Neighborhood leader Walt Hornaday noted that 10 permits, worth more than $40 million, had been pulled in the Judges Hill neighborhood. Hornaday noted that 1503 West Ave. had been on the market for less than 100 days. And he found it hard to believe, given the high popularity of the neighborhood, that the owner couldn’t sell it as a residence.

 

Planner Clark Patterson supported the request, noting the trends towards commercial in the area. Neighbors disagreed, saying that the area around Austin Community College, between 12th and 15th Street had trended commercial. Areas on West Avenue north of 15th Street had maintained its residential integrity, according to Ben Schotz.

 

15th Street is a dividing line obvious to anyone who cruises West Avenue,” Schotz said. “There is significant residential development interest in our neighborhood.”

 

The Judges Hill neighborhood came well equipped to dispute any zoning change, with four speakers and a prepared PowerPoint slide presentation. Through a series of speakers, neighborhood association representatives argued that there wasn’t a trend toward “LO” use – the last change from single-family to limited office in Judges Hill came 18 years ago.

 

Agent Jim Bennett, in his rebuttal, said the house in question was available to anyone who might want to run forward and purchase it. Bennett said the house was not intended to be of heavy commercial use; instead, it could easily be a place where someone might both live and work. Bennett noted that the lot itself was zoned historic, meaning that additional parking would not be added, and that the new owner would be charged with finding any necessary additional parking, possibly by leasing spaces at a nearby church.

 

Dealey offered her motion for denial as soon as the hearing was closed. Commissioner Jay Reddy seconded her motion. And the commission voted to deny the zoning change.

 

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