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Council barely approves zoning request for non-profit in neighborhood

Wednesday, September 30, 2009 by Kevin Lyons

The Texas Association of Nurse Anesthetists, which operates out of a small office space downtown, got preliminary zoning approval for some new digs during Thursday’s City Council meeting. TANA’s request is to rezone the property from family residence to limited office-mixed use.

The yes vote didn’t come without some consternation, however.

Residents in the south Austin neighborhood where TANA will relocate testified against the measure during a public hearing, saying that a zoning change might start a domino affect that will attract more businesses to the area, and eventually more crime.

The City Council barely passed the measure, 4-3, on the first reading of the proposal and has ordered the parties to try to come to an agreement before they hear the proposal again this Thursday.

“Why would the City Council support an organization that is going to come from all over the state of Texas (for meetings) just a few times a year instead of protecting the interests of the citizens?” asked resident Laurie Perry. “We presented a petition with 22 signatures on it out of a 32-unit condominium complex right next door to this property, so a majority of owners and people that live there that don’t want this.”

Representatives for TANA, however, say their plans for the single-story, 1,500 square-foot house on Bannister Lane would not be blight on the neighborhood. They want to use the house for administrative office space for a 1-person staff, and they said they would not redevelop the property.

The house sits next to a 42-unit condominium. There are also other commercial properties in the area.

“TANA would be an ideal neighbor,” said consultant Katherine Loayza of the Jackson Walker law firm, which represents TANA. “If you can’t set up a small office here, where can you have a small office?”

Loayza said her client bought the house because the seller said that the property was zoned as limited office-mixed use.

“The applicant could have done its due diligence and I just think that changing the zoning would be to go against the will of the people,” said Council Member Chris Riley. Council Member Laura Morrison and Council Member Bill Spelman also voted against the request.

Council Member Randi Shade, however, believes TANA did everything it could to appease the neighbors concerns.

“It’s hard to make these calls and sometimes you have to do it in a way that upsets half the room,” Shade said. “We have residents who live and work for this organization. It’s a not-for-profit. Clearly they would be a good neighbor. Whoever owned the house prior at some point didn’t appreciate a giant condominium complex. That was a difficult choice. It’s just the way, you know, it’s the nature of an evolving community.”

The residents wanted TANA to sign a restrictive covenant limiting, among other things, how many people could work in the building.

“The problem with this restriction is it basically dictates how TANA will use their office,” said Loayza.

The residents also did not want TANA to lease the building to anyone else if they decided to move again. They worried that a vacant office building would promote crime and vandalism at nights and on weekends.

Loayza, however, pointed out that the house had already been vacant for a year.

“The bottom line is that there’s going to be somebody there all day long and we are going into the hours of the evening; whereas the neighborhood residents, many of them are not there all day long as they are working, and so it’s a tradeoff. We would be there during the daytime,” Loayza said.

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