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PUD for lone family on 53 acres gets ZAP approval

Monday, July 19, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

The Bull Creek Planned Unit Development is one that city planners have talked about for months as the project wended its way through the approval process.

 

That wasn’t because Bull Creek was complicated, like the East Avenue PUD on the former Concordia University site, which required outside mediators to negotiate complicated agreements. Nor was it because the project was controversial, like the plethora of PUDs that have sprung up along the shores of Lady Bird Lake that have now inspired their own task force.

 

No, the Bull Creek PUD is simply amazing because it exists at all: a prime 53-acre parcel, incorporated from six tracts of land, at the headwaters of Bull Creek that will serve as the home to a single family, despite the fact two approved site plans on the property had much denser development: one with a 21-lot preliminary subdivision and also a lot with a 4-unit condominium project, with 3 additional residences allowable under existing zoning.

 

The new construction, under the plan, would put the impervious cover on the property at 14 percent, far less than the allowable 30 percent.

 

David and Suzanne Booth purchased the property two years ago. David Booth made his money as a mutual fund company CEO. Bloomberg BusinessWeek listed the Booths as #34 on the list of Top 50 American givers, in no small part due to their $300 million gift to the University of Chicago’s newly renamed Booth School of Business.

 

The property’s purchase set local Realtors buzzing, and many find it hard to believe the project, which could soon have a full-fledged PUD designation, is going to be the home for a single family. Where’s the catch? At a recent hearing before the Zoning and Platting Commission, however, planner Clark Patterson assured the commission and the audience that the PUD designation did not give the property owner any recourse to bypass the city approval process if future variances exceeded the long list already being considered.

 

It’s hard to decide which aspect of the Bull Creek PUD has been more dazzling. Was it the Booths’ desire to preserve natural migratory bird habitat on multi-million dollar lake frontage? Was it the exquisite art gallery space being built on site, with its own skylight, that will look somewhat like one at the multi-million dollar Menil Collection in Houston? Or was it the request for an urban forestry designation for a portion of the property, which the Booths wanted because they might “dabble” in a family olive oil business.

 

“I think we would all admit that this is an unusual project, but I think it’s an unusual project in a good way,” attorney David Armbrust told the commission. “I think that we are very fortunate to have owners such as the Booths who have acquired a high-profile piece of property at the confluence of Lake Austin and Bull Creek. They are committed to conservation, green building, green living.”

 

Chair Betty Baker, who admitted she would have been flabbergasted to see significant opposition to the PUD given what it replaced, questioned Patterson before Armbrust made his case. 

 

“Why could this not have been accomplished with conventional zoning?” Baker asked.

 

The use of a PUD had a lot to do with the scope and timing of the project, Patterson said. Different pieces of the plan would be completed at various times, maybe four or five times. The use of a PUD – as unconventional as it might seem – allowed the Booths to have all structures and variances to be heard at once, rather than approaching the board time and again.

 

“It’s a package deal,” Patterson said.

 

The Booths did negotiate an agreement with neighbors to honor the Hill Country Roadway Ordinance alongside their property. As a residential property, the Booths were exempt, technically, from compliance with the ordinance, Patterson said.

 

Commissioner Donna Tiemann noted that a house that approaches a footprint of 20,000 square feet stretches the boundaries of the “residential” zoning designation. The property had so much frontage road, however, that it led to a desire, and even an agreement, to comply with the spirit of the roadway ordinance, which preserves habitat, limits distracting construction with “shiny materials” and disallows billboards.

 

ZAP agreed to support the Bull Creek PUD, with the inclusion of recommendations made by the Environmental Board. It passed on a unanimous vote of the commission.

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