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Planners hold off on zoning decision on Shoal Creek Walk high rise

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

The Planning Commission was not immediately sold on Schlosser Development’s Shoal Creek Walk on Sixth Street last night, putting off a recommendation on the project’s zoning changes with a number of questions about entitlements.


Shoal Creek Walk, to be located on the parking lot to the east of the downtown Whole Foods Market, had a fairly easy approval in front of the Design Commission, although the developer promised additional visits as specifics of the project emerged.


When it came time for a zoning decision at Planning Commission, however, agent Alice Glasco had to move beyond the basic explanation: New flood plain maps had cut the portion of the property available for development significantly, forcing the developer to build one tower up – to 350 feet – rather than out.


Such a tall high-rise would require a zoning change from DMU to DMU-CURE, but it would not require any additional density, which gave Schlosser the opportunity to dodge requirements for in-lieu contributions for affordable housing. Glasco noted that various contributions, when added together, amounted to a total of up to $2.3 million to the city.


How did these arguments work with Planning Commission? Not exceptionally well, although there was no tension or animosity in the discussion. Instead, the case came down to a number of unanswered questions:


How much of the property was undeveloped because of the Capitol View Corridor (always unavoidable) and how much was undevelopable because of the new flood plain map (a new development that might require more sympathy of the commission)? That was Commissioner Dave Anderson’s question.


Schlosser’s Rick Duggan estimated that Schlosser had lost about 120,000 square feet of developable space due to flood plain issues, a combination of losses from raising the building and the losses of portions of the property that were now within the flood plain.


Commissioner Danette Chimenti had questions about the actual interpretation of the density bonus provisions. City staff read code as saying that accommodations for density, and not height, triggered the interim density bonus provisions. And Chimenti calculated that the estimated 100,000 square feet of additional space on the project, at the prescribed $10-per-square-foot, was about $1 million for affordable housing. Glasco’s calculation was far more modest.


To complicate matters further, Commissioner Jay Reddy wanted to know whether those accommodations of height and density on the Shoal Creek Walk should be applied to the full site or the portion of the site that would be considered developable once other portions were excluded.


Duggan had argued that the site, zoned DMU, was zoned at an FAR (floor-to-area ratio) of 5-to-1. That could have produced up to about 500,000 square feet on the property. Instead, the Schlosser projected ended up being somewhere around 3.36-to-1, which Duggan argued was an improvement over what could have been built on the full 2.7-acre property.


Assistant City Attorney Patricia Link, thrown such a curve ball, said she wanted to confer with other legal staff before offering a final answer on such a complex question. That led the commissioners to propose a delay on the decision.


Anderson did have some additional questions about the impact of Shoal Creek improvements on water flows downstream but appeared satisfied with the answer provided by Duggan, which was that improvements would increase capacity without significantly affecting water velocity.


The Shoal Creek Walk case was deferred to the next Planning Commission meeting in order to gather answers from city staff on various questions.

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