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Former mayoral candidate argues with neighbors over SRO property

Tuesday, July 28, 2009 by Kimberly Reeves

In a blink of an eye – or the span of a couple of months, to be more accurate – David Buttross has gone from mayoral candidate back to the developer of a property that many neighbors consider to be a problem for their neighborhood.

Buttross, represented by attorney Terry Irion before the Planning Commission, wanted to rezone his property, a former nursing home turned single room occupancy facility, from GR-NP to GR-MU-NP. Irion said the change in zoning would allow Buttross to renovate the facility to be more permanent quarters.

“The idea of applying for the mixed-use overlay came as a result of a letter that had been sent to the city Planning Department by the neighborhood association sometime late last year,” Irion said. “We discussed it with (department director) Greg Guernsey and began moving in the direction so we could renovate this property.”

The Planning Commission’s role is zoning, not code enforcement. But Planner Sherri Sirwaitis provided the commissioners with a brief update that the property at 9052 Galewood had been the source of a number of building code violations.

In a meeting with the North Austin Civic Association in April, Irion said the former nursing home was a target for vandals and crime. Converted to a new purpose, the facility has 60 furnished and unfurnished rooms, with 48 current rooms renting from $395 to $500 per month.

As Chair David Sullivan pointed out, the GR-NP was still sufficient for Buttross’ current use as a transient boarding house. That would be a facility with short-term leases with some shared bathroom and dining facilities. But Irion said the owner wanted to make the upgrades more permanent; hence, the mixed-use overlay would be necessary for the property.

City staff agreed to Irion’s request, with an additional CO, so the recommended change was GR-MU-CO-NP, with a limit of 2,000 vehicles per day. The mixed-use zoning could be used to create a group living facility, for longer-term use.

A number of residents spoke to Planning Commissioner. Brian Almond, who submitted a letter to the Planning Commission, said the rezoning would create a residence that is not suitable for a long-term renting or leasing situation.

“I understand from the public meeting that most of them will be 250 square feet, at most, and do not have showers or tubs,” Almond said. “They do not have kitchens. To allow a long-term leasing situation, up to a year, indicates to me that they are an apartment.”

Tracey Hadler, a registered nurse who had worked in the state hospital, said it was impossible to drop people with mental health problems into a short-term facility without some kind of support system to get them back on their feet. People in this situation will need treatment, counseling and job placement.

In his rebuttal, Irion said the facility does have on-site management, as well as coordinated visits from MH-MR caseworkers. Those caseworkers hold meetings with clients on-site. Meals on Wheels provides services. And the manager does not tolerate criminal activity on the property, Irion said.

Commissioner Jay Reddy liked the idea of the re-use of the property to take people off the streets. Upon further questioning, however, it was apparent that Buttross and Irion had had little contact with the neighborhood association.

Commissioner Mandy Dealey moved for denial, which she pulled down after some discussion because a denial would mean at least a year until the case could come forward to the Planning Commission again for reconsideration.

Commissioner Saundra Kirk, who withdrew her second, said her support for additional transitional housing was tempered by the appearance that not enough negotiation and arbitration had occurred between the owner and association members.

“The way it is, it does not appear that enough work has been done to make this a successful project,” Kirk said, “Let’s work on something for six months.”

If the negotiations go well, the item could be reposted for consideration.

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