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Developer Leslie Moore faces uphill battle in zoning case

Wednesday, July 1, 2009 by Austin Monitor

Developer Leslie Moore has a reputation as an eclectic developer who caters to Austin’s eclectic sensibility, but Moore’s achievements did not win over neighbors who are opposing his potential redevelopment of an acre lot on Red Bird Lane.

Moore and wife, Magdalena Rood, restored the older houses along South 1st Street that make up the small eclectic shopping district across from the campus of the Texas School for the Deaf. That development won kudos all around, but neighbors of Moore’s property at 313 Red Bird balked at his request to shift zoning from SF-2-NP to SF-3-NP.

Moore, who bought the large lot on Red Bird Lane in 2007, told Council earlier this month he had no particular plans for the land. But he said he wanted an opportunity to consider more options for the property. New zoning could allow up to five units on a lot that is almost an acre in size.

Moore acknowledged in his presentation to Council that neighbors do not want to see duplexes go up on their street. But Moore, who worked for two years on the Bouldin Creek neighborhood plan, said change is not always bad, even if there is resistance.

“We know what it’s like when we have neighbors who simply have an emotional attachment to the property, and they’ve lived there for awhile and don’t want to see change,” said Moore. “We were all flabbergasted that somebody was throwing up these things that didn’t fit in our neighborhood. Now we drive around our neighborhood, and we see that these are not threatening to us. They’re beautiful developments, small in-city developments that are done with taste.”

In short, Moore said he could think of no concessions he could make that would get his neighbors to accept the idea of a duplex, even though the lot next to his own property was zoned SF-3-NP as well. Nor could he give his neighbors the ultimate assurance that the land would go to a homeowner. If Moore subdivided the lot and sold off the property to someone else, he would have no control over the land.

“We met with some of our neighbors and listened to their objections. The things that they were concerned about were things like not wanting to have renters in the neighborhood. They want people who are going to be homeowners in the neighborhood,” Moore said. “Well, I don’t think there’s ever been anyone of us who can guarantee that that’s going to happen, and, besides that, I think that there’s a lot of us out there who are renters, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Homeowner Andrea McCartney, speaking on behalf of her neighbors, said her neighbors did not oppose growth as long as it was controlled growth. In this case, the lot was located on a block in her neighborhood where duplexes and condominiums have stayed on the market for months.

McCartney had a petition signed by 63.5 percent of her neighbors, giving them valid standing. No zoning change should be done for the sole purpose of giving the developer a chance to make a profit. Of course, if Moore wanted to renovate a couple of historic houses and move them to his Red Bird lot, like he had on South 1st Street, the neighbors would be more than happy to see it, McCartney said.

Moore said had no intention of destroying the neighborhood. “Our intentions are in the right place. We’re not out to make enemies,” Moore said. “We just feel like we’d have more options, moving it from SF-2 to SF-3.”

Under SF-3 zoning, Moore could put up two duplexes and a house. That would put five units on the property, which is slightly smaller than an acre. Moore said the subdivision of the property would make it more in line with average home prices in the area.

Council, at the end of discussion, voted to table the case until July 23. Council Member Laura Morrison was the most sympathetic to the neighborhood, noting all the neighbors wanted was some assurance of compatibility and scale. The lot falls outside the area included in the city’s McMansion ordinance.

Then-Mayor Will Wynn noted Moore could get a lawyer and try to work out the details on a compromise with the neighborhood. Outgoing Council Member Brewster McCracken jumped in, saying that a lawyer was not necessary for a zoning case, that restrictive covenants sometimes were easier worked out face-to-face.

A vote to approve on first reading was substituted for one that postponed the case to July 23. Council Member Mike Martinez said that delay would be based upon staff sitting down with the developer and neighborhood to come up with some acceptable parameters for development of the property.

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