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Planning Commission debates, approves YMCA parking lot expansion

Friday, November 12, 2010 by Kimberly Reeves

The Planning Commission sounded a whole lot like the Environmental Board Tuesday night as commissioners wrestled a second time with the Town Lake YMCA expansion project, this time with Commissioner Dave Anderson on the dais. After much debate, the Commission approved the plan but not without adding several major conditions.


The extensive discussion included the applicants, members of the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board and the director of the Parks and Recreation Department. The commission vacillated between a dislike for additional parking within the overlay and concerns about runoff from the additional spaces.


The commission previously had postponed the matter for additional information and for the return of Anderson, an environmental engineer who could take a more critical look at the water quality features on the site. Anderson also is the past chair of the Environmental Commission.


The complicating factor Tuesday was the city’s own involvement in the parking project, a point that put a special twist into the decision made by the Commission. The Town Lake YMCA is entering a parking agreement with the city, effectively exempting it from limits within the code. After almost two hours of discussion, Planner Sarah Graham had to admit to Commissioner Danette Chimenti the only difference between immediate approval of the variance for additional spaces and a parking agreement with the city was timing: the agreement would take longer.


“Time is of the essence to them,” Graham said of the decision to seek a variance within the Lamar District of the Town Lake waterfront overlay. “They’re not required to get this parking agreement with the site, but time is of the essence for them. They want to pull a permit in December, and the parking agreement would take longer than that.”


The YMCA has seen an increase from 2,800 to 4,200 families in the last three years, said CEO James Fink. The expansion of the Town Lake location will provide additional workout space, a new entrance and ADA compliance, at a cost of $5 million.


Parking variances for the site were not unusual for the YMCA, which also had a parking variance in 1992 with its last expansion. But commissioners worked mightily to try to suggest other alternatives, such as partnering with other businesses to share parking and removing spaces to promote bioswales, which could minimize the impact of runoff.


Bioswales are being integrated into the expansion of Zach Theatre. Chair Dave Sullivan noted that the theater had some public funding in its project, but Anderson countered that the cost of the bioswales could be quite reasonable. Bioswales act as a filter to reduce pollution, and are often used near parking lots.


The final points of contention came down to parking spaces. The YMCA has about 150 spaces now, and is looking for up to 64 more. Commissioners Jay Reddy and Dave Sullivan wanted them in. Commissioners Richard Hatfield and Saundra Kirk questioned whether a number tied down the YMCA too early in the site plan phase, before the final details had been ironed out.


Motions by Reddy and Anderson, which specified how many parking places would be allowed, were offered, but there was not a consensus, Commissioner Kathryn Tovo suggested a compromise: toss out the specific number of spaces and go with percentage impervious cover. That would allow the facility to have more flexibility while meeting the commission’s goal.


The plan, as presented, raised the impervious cover to 61 percent. Commissioner Mandy Dealey asked for 60 percent, which was supported. The motion on the amendment, to replace spaces with impervious cover, passed on a vote of 8-1, with Reddy voting against it.


The final motion, to support staff recommendation, was 7-2, with Reddy and Dealey opposed to the final deal hammered out by the Planning Commission.


One of the conditions placed on the site plan, at Dealey’s suggestion was a recommendation that the YMCA work with private property neighbors on shared parking, which was a suggestion of the waterfront overlay advisory board. Tovo also tacked on a recommendation to create an ADA-accessible path from the site to the hike-and-bike trail with PARD, if at all possible.


Those were added to additional conditions of sustainable construction, additional landscape buffers, biotreatment of the parking lot and request for informal updates to both the Waterfront Overlay Advisory Board and Planning Commission.

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