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Divided ZAP Commission OKs trip limits for medical office plaza

Monday, August 23, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

Agent Jim Bennett got the Zoning and Platting Commission to raise the trip limits on his South Austin medical office plaza last week, but he had to go through homeowner Mark Walters to do it.


Of course, Walters is not simply a homeowner who has been bothered for years by what he considers to be an inconsiderate neighboring developer on South William Cannon. He also works in the city’s Planning and Development Review Department although he went to great pains last week to note to the ZAP commissioners that his job was the comprehensive plan, and not zoning.


Bennett’s job was to get the trip limits on his 8-acre property, zoned LO-CO back in 1996, raised from 2,000 trips per day to 2,509 trips per day. That was necessary, Bennett explained, because the space had shifted to a heavier office concentration. The current mix is now 85 percent medical office and 15 percent professional office, pushing up the traffic counts.


The buildings had been built. Parking was finished out and adequate for the new tenant mix. And the developer had met the standards set out in a private covenant signed with the Southwest Austin Neighborhood Association.

Walters, however, did not go away easily, providing ZAP with a PowerPoint presentation of his concerns about the property. He lives immediately north of the site, in the Cherry Creek single-family neighborhood, and he is well versed in terms of the standards of behavior that made the original developer less than a good neighbor: pouring concrete at 5am; failing to meet the standards of the noise ordinance; wasting water that rolled off the property; removing traffic barriers and taking access to Alford Drive, despite promises not to do so.


“In short, do not reward bad behavior. Do not write off the negotiated agreement of the neighborhood from 1996,” Walters asked. “Please don’t disregard that.”


In his rebuttal, Bennett said he had known Walters for years and had no problems with him standing before the commission to make his case, as a property. He did disagree, however, that the developer had failed to meet the requirements of the restrictive covenant; specifically, a one-story height limit on buildings.


Buildings were no taller than 18 feet, Bennett said. The developer, however, had put decorative windows in the attic space above the ground floor. That gave neighbors in the building’s site line a concern that the attic space might be converted. Bennett, however, assured Commissioner Donna Tiemann that the attic space could not be converted, was primarily raw studs, utilities and insulation, with no ability to be converted.


Chair Betty Baker still had some doubts about that point, noting that something that looks and acts like a goose, could be a goose. Bennett countered it could also be a duck, adding that even if space could be converted, there wasn’t enough parking.


“We can’t park it. We’d be in violation of the declarations that we’ve signed with the homeowners association,” said Bennett, responding to questions from Tiemann. “And, third, I don’t think you’re going to get much space out of it.”


ZAP was split, 4-2, on the case, with Commissioner Cynthia Banks absent. Tiemann and Baker voted against raising the trip cap, with Commissioner Sandy Baldridge noting she supported the motion because the development was an improvement to the neighborhood but had the distinct feeling that Bennett simply found it easier to ask for forgiveness, rather than permission, on the change.


“There’s probably no one in the room who understands the rules better than Jim Bennett,” was Baker’s tart retort, a back-handed compliment, especially given that she immediately voted against the change.

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