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ZAP votes to deny “precedent-setting” rezoning

Monday, January 24, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

Agent Jim Wittliff learned last week that coming late to the party is no excuse when it comes to rezoning land in the Lake Austin corridor.


Wittliff, representing owners of a 100-foot-wide parcel on Big View Drive known as the Martin-Valentine resident, lobbied the Zoning and Platting Commission to lift the 1-LA, or interim Lake Austin residence, and replace it with SF-1, or large-lot residence. The change would have given an additional 5-foot setback on each side and roughly doubled the impervious cover on the property for the home.


In his presentation, Wittliff provided a list of a dozen lakefront properties already developed in the area that violate the current ordinance. By expanding the rights of homeowner James Valentine IV, Wittliff argued, ZAP would simply be providing similar entitlements for one lot among many.


“What we’re trying to do is trying to be compatible with the neighborhood,” Wittliff said. “These are exclusive lots, expensive lots, and the houses that people build there do tend to be palatial. Most of them have pools and patios.”


The problem, however, is that the other lots on Big View Drive were built before the area was annexed into the city, meaning they were grandfathered in under county, rather than city, development guidelines.


“I’m sorry this is the only lot required to comply, but the rest were in the county when they were built, and we could not mandate when it was in the county,” said Commissioner Patricia Seeger. “Unfortunately, this area was annexed, then de-annexed, then annexed again, which means you come under the true zoning laws that are intended to protect our waterfront.”


According to the back-up material on the case, the tract of land was annexed into the city under a limited purpose annexation in 1982, then de-annexed in 1989 when state law mandated that the extra-territorial jurisdiction of a city had to be within a contiguous two miles of the city limits. The property was annexed back into the city in 2009 and fell under the more stringent Lake Austin regulations by virtue of its being a parcel greater than an acre in size.


While the River Place subdivision fell out of annexation for a decade, other properties did not. The 270 properties that came into the city in 1982 were given the choice to zone under either Lake Austin or single-family standards.


And because of that, the commissioners wouldn’t budge. If they did, Commissioner Gregory Bourgeois said, it would set a precedent that would allow any subsequent site plans to come in under old regulations.


Wittliff noted that neighbors and neighborhood associations who had been contacted by him did not oppose the zoning change. Carol Torgrimson of CONA 2222 disputed that statement, saying Wittliff might have called someone in CONA 2222, but she had called her board of directors on Tuesday and opposition to the zoning change had been unanimous.


“It’s unfortunate that this lot is being developed after the annexation, but most of the neighborhoods in the area are under either full purpose or limited purpose annexation, which means they have to comply with city of Austin code,” Torgrimson said. “I assure you every house that’s built in my neighborhood of Long Canyon is built to city code completely, and that’s what happens when you come in later to a development after annexation has taken place.”


During his rebuttal, Wittliff said he had handled enough cases to know when he didn’t have four votes. But he also bristled at Torgrimson’s comments, offering the names of past officers of CONA 2222 he had contacted on the case.


“I do want to say I do not want my integrity questioned,” Wittliff said. “I am not a liar, and I did talk with these people on multiple occasions.”


Torgrimson appeared to make amends with Wittliff, and the two continued to talk well after the meeting adjourned.


As Wittliff expected, ZAP voted in favor of staff’s recommendation to deny the zoning change.


“This would be setting a precedent that flies in the face of the zoning that was established for this area,” Bourgeois said.

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