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Planning Commission OKs change from industrial to multi-family

Monday, May 18, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

So, can a developer get buy-in from the Planning Commission turn a one-time light industrial property into preferred multi-family residential zoning in an industrial area? It appears so, especially if the neighborhood strongly supports it.

Developer Kevin Ludlow wanted to turn a 1.4-acre parcel at 3617 Axel Rd. – in the East Martin Luther King neighborhood planning area — from Light Industrial, or LI, under the current neighborhood plan, to MF-6-NP. The parcel, however, is in the Ed Bluestein sub-district, indicating that the long-term preference of the neighborhood was to see the sub-district develop as a light industrial area.

Light industrial and single family are not exactly good neighbors. Despite Ludlow’s persistence, the case had been delayed twice when it came before the commission last week. The last time, last November, the Planning Commission put the case in limbo, postponing it indefinitely and sending Ludlow away to consider any zoning option other than his preferred SF-3-NP.

One of the biggest concerns, of course, was compatibility. The property next door, still undeveloped, would have to have a 50-foot setback if Ludlow pursued residential development in the neighborhood. Under the current light industrial zoning category, the set back would be only 10 feet.

Offering two possible solutions to resolve the case, zoning case manager Joi Harden even suggested either subdividing the tract or creating two zoning districts on the tract to avoid potential setback issues. Or, without a zoning change, Ludlow could use a portion of the site for industrial uses and put a home on the property for accessory use, as long as it was no larger than 25 percent of the building.

None of those options appealed to Ludlow, who was back at Planning Commission this week, asking for an even denser residential zoning category of MF-6-NP. While Chair Dave Sullivan balked a bit at the suggestion – single family was incompatible, so it would seem multi-family would be even more incompatible – Ludlow said he chose the category in order to reduce the setback to 25 feet.

Ludlow argued that the location of the property made access for industrial use difficult. The property itself was 800 feet long, which Ludlow said was roughly the distance from the Council chamber out to the middle of Lady Bird Lake.

“I’d be more than happy to take MF-1,” Ludlow said. “I’m agreeable to that, or I’d be willing to take the single-family zoning, like I was requesting last year.”

Ludlow said he was more than sympathetic with his neighbor to the east, trying to work out some type of solution with him over the last six months of 2008.

The neighborhood plan contact team, led by Andrew Bucknall, supported the zoning change. When the plan was created back in 2002, residential was not something envisioned for the Ed Bluestein sub-district, but the neighborhood embraced pride in ownership and Ludlow’s attempt to build a house.

Commissioners, minus Sullivan, leaned toward granting the zoning change in recognition of the changing character of the neighborhood. Gerardo Castillo noted that many residents of the neighborhood probably would not have believed seven years ago that someone would want to develop on land once known as the Hog Pen site.

Sullivan struggled with the concept of completing voiding all the city’s long-held planning principles. People complain about industrial zoning adjacent to single-family zoning. But, in this case, someone was pushing for just that.

“This flies in the face of all our planning principles,” Sullivan said. “I’m just deeply troubled by this case.”

Ludlow agreed to support his neighbor in any type of variance he might need on his property, a change that would have to go before the Board of Adjustment. Commissioners Clint Small and Jay Reddy both encouraged Ludlow to put that agreement in writing before the case went before Council.

Commissioner Mandy Dealey made the motion for multi-family zoning (MF-1-NP). Sullivan capitulated in the end, making the vote on the changes to both the Future Land Use Map and the zoning 6-0.

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