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Enfield zoning swap approved

Monday, November 15, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

Council has signed off on swapping zoning on two side-by-side properties on Enfield Road, despite what Council Member Laura Morrison described as a “ping pong petition” opposing the zoning changes.

The two properties in question, at 1501 Enfield and 1503 Enfield, were formerly owned by the Austin Children’s Shelter. Architect Tina Contros, representing the owner, wanted the larger historic property at 1501 Enfield, built in 1924, rezoned from multi-family use to neighborhood office, or NO-CO-NP, since the area has a neighborhood plan. The smaller property at 1503 Enfield, on a similar size lot, would then assume the multi-family designation of MF3-NP.


Local resident and realtor Hoya Johnson protested the change, joined by a number of the neighbors. She said the petition of opposition had gone from valid to invalid to valid because of the applicant’s scare tactics, talking neighbors into taking their names off the petition.


The petition of opposition from surrounding neighbors was valid the morning of Council, invalid at lunch and then valid again when the zoning cases began at 2pm with 20 percent of neighbors in opposition.


“A lot of the neighbors have been told if this zoning doesn’t happen that there could be a 31-bed homeless shelter put over there, or a fraternity,” said Johnson, who has lived in the neighborhood for 27 years. “My petition keeps changing because every time I get someone signed, they go there, they scare them to death.”


Johnson also said the office use at 1503 Enfield was conditional and only 580 square feet, limited to serve only the children’s shelter staff. To swap the zoning between houses, at this point, would simply add significantly more office space to the neighborhood than homeowners intended under the agreement, she said.


Neighbor Lydia Francine Monroe also protested the zoning swap, saying the Children’s Shelter, with its school bus traffic on Marshall Street, had been an issue for neighbors. Now, it would simply be swapped for office space with its own traffic issues. The applicant countered that the office would have the 11 spaces required by the new zoning category on the property.


Laura Gottesman, who owns the two properties, told Council she intended to move her real estate office into the restored 1501 Enfield property.


“By restoring this 1924 home and using it as a small real estate office, I feel that I can justify bringing back the grandeur of an old estate in a historic neighborhood, while at the same time lowering the density and lowering the impact that a new development with MF-3 zoning allowed for,” Gottesman said. “I want this to be the home for my company, and I want to care and maintain it as a landmark. My goal is that everybody wins, and this property can be something that we are all proud to have in our neighborhood.”


Opposition to the zoning swap was not universal. The Old West Austin neighborhood plan contact team deferred to the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association. The association chose to remain neutral on the swap.


Larry Halford, vice chair of the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association, had attempted to mediate between the applicant and neighbors, identifying increased traffic volume and on-street parking as potential concerns, as well as precedents for additional office space along Enfield. None of the issues was deemed significant.


“Without question, (the neighborhood association) is sympathetic to the potential traffic and parking issues raised by opposing neighbors,” Halford told Council. “However, denying the zoning change will not resolve those issues. More likely, lessen them.”


The real threat along Enfield, the association decided, was multi-family development rather than additional office space. Many of the properties along the well-traveled boulevard already carry the multi-family zoning designation, Halford said.


In making his motion, Council Member Bill Spelman called the zoning change “benign.” Even Morrison, the most neighborhood-centric member of the Council, could find little to oppose in the swap of zoning designations on the property.


“I note that there are concerns about traffic and parking,” Morrison said. “But with regard to traffic and parking, frankly, it sounds like it’s going to be a better situation than when the Children’s Shelter was there.”


If on-street parking becomes a problem post-conversion, Morrison said she hoped the residents would consider city-sanctioned neighborhood parking permits as an option.


“The bottom line is that this is equivalent entitlements and out of it we’re getting the bonus of repurposing and reuse and preservation of an important house on Enfield,” Morrison said. “If you drive down Enfield, we’ve lost a lot of those beautiful homes, and I think maintaining those houses maintains the charter and the moderate density that’s there.”


Council approved the zoning swap unanimously on all three readings.

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