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Planning Commission postpones case, wants more information

Tuesday, June 15, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

The zoning case for 904 San Antonio could be a precursor to what Planning Commission can expect to see in the wake of the downtown neighborhood plan.

 

Agent Ron Thrower was at the land use commission last week to rezone the property on San Antonio Street from its current MF-4 to a more downtown friendly DMU. Staff recommendation was DMU-CO, with conditional and prohibited uses for things like bail bondsmen and cocktail lounges.

 

In his remarks to the commission, Thrower said his client simply wanted to be prepared for what the eventual uses of the property might be, given that the yet-to-be-approved neighborhood plan had singled out the property at 904 San Antonio for potential future redevelopment.

 

“This is a candidate site for redevelopment under the future downtown plan,” Thrower told the commission. “We’re just trying to get the property ready for some reasonable redevelopment of that area.”

 

The approval of that neighborhood plan by Council, of course, is still on the horizon. Commissioner Kathryne Tovo, in her comments, noted that 904 San Antonio now stands as the only single-family house facing Wooldridge Square.

 

“This is really a graceful and gracious house,” Tovo said. “One of the real difficulties is that so many of these structures have been demolished. I agree that this site would be well-served by redevelopment with an active, vibrant use, but I hate to lose yet another historic structure from this area of downtown, from any area of downtown.”

 

The DMU-CO category was acceptable to city staff because of the purpose of the category. As Planner Clark Patterson explained, the DMU category was intended to provide transitional density between single-family and the denser Central Business District downtown. The category also would provide limits while still respecting the context of the surrounding area.

 

The current house on the property, however, remained the sticking point. Thrower straddled the issue by saying the owner had no immediate plans to demolish the two-story house on the property, built in the 1920s. But he pleaded ignorance, saying no one had suggested the historic value of his house as being an issue, which was rebutted with a tart comment that the only reason he hadn’t heard the argument was that he had failed to approach Downtown Commission or the Historic Landmark Commission on the issue.

 

“I was not anticipating this (historic factor) was going to be a major issue,” Thrower said. “In fact, we’re not proposing a plan to demolish the house, and if a demolition permit is pulled, it can be opened up for discussion at that time.”

 

Thrower estimated the potential height of any structure on the property under DMU zoning would be between 70 and 80 feet, according to estimates Thrower heard. That would be based upon the limitations of the Capitol view corridor.

 

The safeguard suggested by Thrower — that the case would have to go to the Historic Landmark Commission upon demolition and new construction – was not sufficient for commissioners. Commissioner Mandy Dealey, who also happens to serve as president of the Heritage Society of Austin, suggested a two-week delay for Thrower to consider and report on the historic aspects of the property.

 

Dealey suggested that zoning categories of NO, LO and GO would have been applicable if the owner had some intention of preserving the existing home. Thrower did concede that moving the house might be the preferred choice, even if demolition of the existing structure wasn’t.

 

While Chair Dave Sullivan approved of such a choice – he has a vacant lot in his own neighborhood zoned historic without a structure on it – it appeared the majority of the commission supported the delay in order to get a firmer commitment from Thrower’s client on his intentions with the house.

 

The two-week delay, proposed by Dealey and supported by Vice Chair Jay Reddy, passed on a vote of 8-0, with Dave Anderson absent.

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