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Council votes to allow denser development on disputed tract

Monday, June 28, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

The months-long debate over the state of the Upper Boggy Creek Neighborhood Planning Area and its stubborn tract 3 has finally come to an end. On Thursday Council reversed its last decision on the Airport Boulevard site and voted to allow the tract to remain in the vertical mixed use (VMU) overlay district.


On June 10, Council had voted 4-3, on second reading, in favor of excluding the tract at 4020 Airport Boulevard from the VMU conditional overlay. This was despite the recommendation of the Upper Boggy Creek Neighborhood Planning contact team and the Planning Commission – which recommended applying all VMU-related standards, including dimensional standards, parking restrictions, and affordable rental units requirements to the site – and a valid petition filed by the tract’s owner.


This past Thursday was a different story, however, with Council members Sheryl Cole and Bill Spelman changing their positions and voting to approve the Planning Commission’s recommendation. That motion to approve was made by Council Member Chris Riley.


For her part, Cole told her colleagues that she had decided to support keeping tract 3 in the VMU after visiting the site. “I have visited with more of the neighbors in the area,” she said, “and have become convinced it is a commercial corridor we should support with VMU.”


Two of the Council members who had voted to exclude tract 3 remained steadfast in the opposition, however. On June 10, Council Member Laura Morrison had voted for exclusion because the city had made an agreement with neighbors and put a restrictive covenant on the property saying it could not be zoned for residential use. She told her fellow Council members that she felt it was “important that we stick with what the agreement that was made with the residents.”


On Thursday, she remained opposed to changing zoning on the property. “I had made the motion to exclude this tract before because I felt quite strongly that we stand by the city’s commitment to the neighbors from some years ago reflected in the public restrictive covenant saying there wouldn’t be residential here,” she said. “So I can’t support the motion.”


The other holdout, Mayor Lee Leffingwell, said that his opposition to tract 3’s inclusion was based “primarily on principle.” “The process automatically upzones the property,” he said, “and so then in order to downzone the property, or really leave it the way it is, you have to overcome a valid petition. I don’t like that process. I don’t think it’s fair; I don’t think it’s equitable.”


Following the 5-2 vote in favor of approving the zoning amendment, Council took up a related item, this one to change the land use designation of the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) of the Upper Boggy Creek Neighborhood Plan from office to mixed-use/office on tract 3.


More than 20 members of the surrounding community signed a petition expressing their displeasure with the possible change. “We are a neighborhood of 1 story homes,” the petition read. “The height of VMU buildings will make our homes and yards viewable from their higher stories, resulting in significant loss of our privacy. In addition, the higher density will increase noise, congestion, and glaring lights …”   


One petitioner, Tom Johnson, who lives on East 40th street next to the tract 3 property, told Council he and his neighbors were concerned about flooding as a result of erosion and property devaluations.


Once again, Morrison threw her support behind the neighbors, but on this issue she was alone. The motion to amend the FLUM passed on a vote of 6-1.

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