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ZAP moves to encourage business development within the airport overlay

Monday, April 26, 2010 by Michael Kanin

In a move that signaled its willingness to use its power to encourage business development, the Zoning and Platting Commission last week voted to approve a change in the conditional overlay for a piece of property located close to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The new rules will allow for many more types of commercial use, reducing the limitations from a list of eight to a list of just two.


Staff was against the shift. In a 2004 case that set the limitations for the property, they had argued the road that serves it didn’t meet the standards that might otherwise be required for heavier types of commercial endeavors.


Commission Chair Betty Baker didn’t wait for a response from the applicant. In what she called an effort to “short circuit this,” Baker immediately offered to drop five of the conditions.


“Because of the airport and the overlay there, and the prohibition of so many uses, we’re not in a position to really encourage what you would call prime redevelopment in this area,” she said. “In looking at the department comments … what I would like to do is prohibit vehicle storage and adult-oriented businesses and let the rest of them be permitted uses.”


“It’s really unfortunate,” she added. “I mean, I can understand the airport, but the owners … of these properties, there’s not much they can do with them.”


After Baker’s suggestion, the debate focused around whether the road, Thompson Lane, could indeed accommodate heavier traffic. Commission Vice-Chair Donna Tiemann was first to challenge staff’s assessment. “You suggested that the road conditions weren’t conducive to … large pieces of equipment coming in?” she asked.


Wendy Rhoades of the Planning Development and Review Department picked up on the direction of Tiemann’s questioning. “I realize that this Thompson Lane is a route for a lot of the gravel companies,” she said. “However, I would note that those gravel pits are not in the city; many of them are in the county and do not have zoning.”


Baker pointed out the obvious. “But the roadway now is accommodating — or at least tolerating — gravel trucks back and forth almost 24/7,” she said.


Rhoades acknowledged that fact. Still, she said that “from the staff prospective,” the city wasn’t “looking to add to that.”


Commissioners didn’t seem to buy that argument as significant enough to warrant denial of the change. For her part, Baker returned to the theme of encouraging business growth in the area, wherever they could. “To me, to have anything that’s legitimate in here (that’s) not an adult-oriented business, which we have some on (State Highway) 71, I just think we should encourage it,” she said.


Baker then checked to make sure that no one wanted to speak in opposition to the change. After she received no response from the chamber, she asked her colleagues if they’d like to proceed with her suggestion without a public hearing. They did and voted unanimously to approve the changes.


In so doing, they dropped the restrictions on trips induced by future development as well as development for equipment repair, equipment sales, kennels, laundry services, and transportation. Currently, the site plays host to an electrical company, a mechanical company, two empty commercial buildings, and a single-family residence.

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