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Council approves Suburban Lodge housing project on South I-35

Tuesday, February 22, 2011 by Josh Rosenblatt

Ask Walter Moreau, the executive director of Foundation Communities, and he’ll tell you it’s not easy convincing a neighborhood to accept a new affordable housing project, especially when that neighborhood is already home to the most affordable housing units in the city. Sometimes not even a restrictive covenant will do the trick.


This was the dilemma facing Moreau at last Thursday’s Council meeting. He was there advocating for his organization’s request to rezone the Suburban Lodge Extended Stay hotel on South I-35. The group is looking to convert the hotel into 120 efficiency apartments for people with annual incomes of $25,850 or less.


Moreau told Council members that he and the Greenbriar Neighborhood Association had failed to reach an agreement on a restrictive covenant.


“We worked extremely hard with neighbors on the restrictive covenant,” Moreau said. “We thought we had it all ironed out Tuesday and then we weren’t able to come to an agreement on some items.” The item in question is one Moreau said he proposed himself, stating that the neighborhood association would agree not to oppose the rezoning request after signing off on the restrictive covenant.


Moreau told In Fact Daily that the neighbors wouldn’t agree to the item. “I added that language because I thought they might still come out to object, that they would oppose the project and have a restrictive covenant, and I’m not willing to do that,” he said. “I don’t think they understood that that’s the way it works, that if you negotiate a restrictive covenant on a project, that means that you’re willing to be neutral. It’s a private contractual agreement so it makes me nervous to sign it and still have people oppose the project.”


Instead, Moreau asked Council to approve the rezoning application with the city-written conditional overlay, which, according to Jerry Rusthoven of the city’s Planning and Development Review Department, contains almost every item in the draft restrictive covenant, including the building of an eight-foot fence along the eastern property line, a 60 percent restriction on impervious cover, a 40-foot height restriction, and a prohibition on outdoor entertainment, outdoor sports and recreation, and general retail sales.


Seeking to find a compromise between Foundation Communities and the surrounding neighbors, many of whom reminded Council of the area’s already-high crime rate and low average income, Council Member Bill Spelman asked Rusthoven if any of the items in the restrictive covenant that were not in the conditional overlay could be added by staff to the overlay. That way, he said, the neighbors would have peace of mind if Council voted to support the rezoning. 


Rusthoven said two items could be put into the conditional overlay. They would require Foundation Communities to plant 12 additional trees on the property and construct a second privacy fence across the top retaining wall extending around the south side of the property for at least 30 feet.


Hearing this, Spelman made a motion to approve the item on first reading but to have staff write those two items into the conditional overlay and return with a revised ordinance on March 3.


This didn’t sit well with Moreau, however, who told Spelman, “I think we’ve been through a lengthy diligent process; we’ve negotiated in good faith … I just don’t want to wait another week or two or three. We’re working toward a June deadline. We hope to have plans ready for permitting and start work right away. Time on any real estate development project is crucial. We’re here, we’re ready, we’ve come this far.”


Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez apparently felt the same, and he made a substitute motion to approve on all three readings the original recommendation without the changes to the overlay. After Moreau gave his word to Spelman that his group would honor the neighborhood association’s wishes by building the fence and planting the trees, the motion passed unanimously.


Foundation Communities is scheduled to close on the property in June. The group has a contract with the Texas Department of Housing for $6.4 million to go with $2 million in city General Obligation Housing Bonds. Twenty of the project’s 120 units will be set aside for permanent supportive housing.

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