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ZAP approves more playground space for Rosewood nursery school

Thursday, October 21, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

The Zoning and Platting Commission signed off on additional playground space at a nursery school in the middle of the Rosedale neighborhood on Tuesday, a move supported by the school’s immediate neighbors but opposed by the Rosedale Neighborhood Association.

 

As the president of the school’s board of directors, Karen Wiley, told the commission, the 57-year-old All-Austin Cooperative Nursery School, which is owned and run by parents, was the first integrated nursery school in Austin. It was only in the last decade, however, that the site moved from rented church space to a renovated house on Hancock Boulevard. A Board of Adjustment variance allows the yard to be used for play space.

 

This isn’t just any play space, Wiley told the board. Parents went out of their way to design what Wiley described as “naturalistic” space.

 

“We wanted to encourage creative exploration, skill building, and cooperative play,” Wiley said. “We’ve tried to make it pleasing not only for the children but for the neighborhood. This playground is not like a McDonald’s. It’s not even like a primary school. The one thing we think we have missing is space for the children to run, swing, jump, and pedal bicycles to develop large motor skills.”

 

For just over a year, the nursery school has owned the adjacent property at 5012 Shoalwood Dr. The nursery school wants to place a conditional use permit on a portion of the property, add a five-foot buffer between the playground and the balance of the yard, and continue to rent out the property as a single-family home. The current tenant, Wiley said, has no problems with the preschool’s plans.

 

Wiley’s recollections are true but not the complete story. While Rosedale Neighborhood Association Co-President Joyce Brown agreed that parents at the nursery school have been open and up front with the neighborhood, she also said the school has not always been the best neighbor to the adjacent properties.

 

In fact, the neighbor at 5012 Shoalwood, who initially agreed to the variance, eventually had serious problems with the noise of a nursery school next door, Brown said. It was Brown’s recollection, and that of neighborhood association leaders, that the nursery school promised it would not expand its property.

 

Now, with the addition of the conditional use permit for the playground area, it seems natural to assume the nursery school might eventually take up the full property, chipping away at the buffer that Rosedale attempted to create between its residential neighborhoods and public/commercial uses.

 

Another neighbor, Elizabeth Burr, rose to say the neighborhood association’s steering committee, in this case, does not speak for everyone. Burr, who does not have children in the school, expressed her support for the nursery school and said she had never been invited to a dialogue on the topic.

 

Pat Sefton, director of AACNS, said the nursery school met with the neighborhood in January and presented plans to the association in June. Wiley also noted that the change in use has the support of each adjacent homeowner.

 

In fact, parents at the school chose a conditional overlay rather than a variance or zoning change in order to be responsive to neighborhood concerns. The additional space would not mean additions to programs or enrollment, and staff recommendations added plat notes that limit the use of the playground area to no more than 55 children between the hours of 8:30am and 2:30pm.

 

Commissioner Patricia Seeger said it might give local residents more assurances if the property were to convert back to single-family use if it is sold. Wiley said it was her understanding that the conditional overlay carries with the property only if 2301 Hancock continues to operate as a day care center. If the land were sold for any other purpose, the yard would return to single-family use. Staff agreed that those are the conditions of the overlay at 5012 Shoalwood.

 

Seeger and Commissioner Donna Tiemann did ask some careful questions, such as how many children would be out playing in the area at any one time (classes are rotated) and whether all three homeowners with property that touches some portion of the nursery lot had signed off on the conditional use proposal (they had).

 

Wiley said it was unlikely the house will be converted any time soon. Rent revenue from the property is being used as an income stream for the school. Owners will place a fence around the play area and then the next five feet will be a vegetative buffer to muffle noise.

 

ZAP voted unanimously to support the conditional overlay plus variance.

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