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Council votes against rezoning for medical office in North Austin

Thursday, May 20, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

The City Council voted last week to deny the rezoning of an office building at the corner of Limerick Avenue and West Parmer Lane. Despite the fact that the application was only up for a first read and that the applicant had amended its original request to allay the concerns of the Zoning and Platting Commission, Council members decided, by a vote of 6-1, that the rezoning of the property wouldn’t be appropriate for the North Austin neighborhood. 


Originally the applicant, J.B. Phillips, had requested the rezoning of his property at 12412 Limerick Avenue from neighborhood office-mixed use (NO-MU) combining district zoning to general office (GO) district zoning. Phillips hoped to turn what is currently an office for a roofing contractor into a medical office. However, after staff recommended denial of the rezoning request because the property entrance leads onto a residential street, the applicant amended his request to limited office (LO) at the May 4 ZAP meeting.


ZAP then met the applicant halfway, approving, by a vote of 4-3, a recommendation for limited office-conditional overly (LO-CO) zoning, with the following conditions: limit the building size on the site to 2,000 square feet and limit the site to less than 200 vehicle trips per day. 


But that compromise didn’t satisfy most Council members, who were worried both about the relationship between an LO property and its neighboring properties on Limerick Avenue, most of which are zoned single family, and the specific nature of LO zoning.


Greg Guernsey, director of the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, told Council members that it was concern over the property’s proximity to the single-family neighborhood and the fact that its entrance is on Limerick rather than Parmer that caused staff to recommend denying the rezoning.


“The entrance way is on a single-family neighborhood (street),” Guernsey said. “We think NO would be more appropriate than LO given its proximity to the residential neighborhood. Here you have the circumstances that change the characteristics of a neighborhood, people coming in and out of that neighborhood, and its compatibility with the adjacent land uses, that are more single family in nature.”


“So LO would be appropriate if they had a driveway on Parmer (rather than Limerick)?” asked Council Member Bill Spelman.


Yes, said Guernsey. “And the lots that you see (on) Parmer Lane are also larger and deeper. And this was originally developed as a single-family lot. The NO allows the uses to be administrative offices or a professional office, but it could not be a medical office,” he said.


Guernsey pointed out that the whole reason why the applicant was applying for rezoning to LO is because medical offices are not allowed in NO zoning areas.


The applicant’s agent, Jim Bennett, was quick to point out that despite the change in use, there would be no material differences between the current property and the future one.


“(We’re) not proposing any changes to the site,” Bennett said. “The parking is in place. We’re taking the building that’s currently there. The (driveway) access is there. Materially there won’t be any change in the site.”


Council Member Laura Morrison then asked Guernsey why the rezoning would be necessary for a medical office if that medical office would require no changes to the building.


“It goes back to characteristics,” Guernsey responded. “Medical offices have a greater parking ratio. It’s one space for 200 square feet instead of one per 275 square feet of floor area. They require more parking. They have more frequent trips. Basically it’s a more intensive type of use. LO allows for 70 percent impervious cover. NO is 60 percent.”


Under city code, he said, properties under LO zoning can be used for, among other things, medical offices, communication services, limited hospital uses, and convalescent services.


Hearing this, Mayor Lee Leffingwell asked Guernsey if it would be possible for Council to put in further restrictions to the conditional overlay that would limit future LO uses on the property to only medical offices.


“You could, yes,” Guernsey answered.


Despite Leffingwell’s contention that such restrictions on the site would be possible and that he would like more time to consider the rezoning application on second and third read, Spelman made a motion to deny the request. Morrison seconded the motion, saying, “In terms of graceful transitions of zoning, I agree with staff on sticking with NO. It seems entirely appropriate.”


Council then voted 6-1 to deny the applicant’s request, with Leffingwell voting against the motion.

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