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Planning Commission recommends rezoning on South Lamar properties

Thursday, March 10, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

A request to rezone a group of lots on South Lamar Boulevard to a high-density multi-family property actually sailed through the Planning Commission on Tuesday night, proof that even the normally critical Zilker neighborhood can find common ground on land use.


The three undeveloped commercial properties in question are along Lamar Boulevard at Gibson Street and had been zoned for mixed-use commercial services. The proposal was rezoning to MF-6-CO with a height limit of 60 feet, in order for Ardent Residential to develop a 200-unit property on the site.


Ardent Residential has an impressive record of development, with properties that range from the new Four Seasons residential high-rise development to its multifamily development at 5350 Burnet Rd. Co-Owner Brent Denton defended the 1.3-acre project, which appeared to have limited opposition from its neighborhood.


This property, right across the street from the Alamo Drafthouse and Maudie’s, was being downzoned with Zilker’s approval, Denton said. The neighborhood wanted the 60-foot-height limit plus two conditions: preserving and protecting the heritage trees on the site and constructing a sidewalk along Gibson.


“Those aren’t items that would be part of the conditional overlay because those items already are required by city code,” Denton said. “They would not have to be required as part of the conditional overlay.”


But Lorraine Atherton of the Zilker Neighborhood Association noted that developers of commercial property often promise to preserve South Lamar’s urban tree canopy and sometimes don’t deliver. So Commissioner Danette Chimenti, in her motion, inserted language that confirmed the preservation of trees on the property and that there would be no fee in lieu for sidewalks.


Chair Dave Sullivan asked Denton why he had chosen MF-6 when he could have built his project with CS-MU. Denton noted that CS-MU was limited to MF-4 density, which would not be enough to get his project built. The three parcels, two of which remain VMU, are a combined 1.3 acres.


“Between the topography, the trees, the trains, the billboards and even the cell phone tower next door, not to mention the height limit, we have a lot to consider,” Denton said. “This allows us to achieve that density.”


Sullivan noted that it also rolled back impervious cover. The commercial CS zoning category would allow up to 95 percent impervious cover. The use of MF-6 with its conditional overlay would push that down to 60 percent.


“You are getting a reduction in impervious cover, but you’re also getting more units,” Sullivan noted.


Atherton, while fairly happy with the Gibson Residences project, did take her time before the Planning Commission to urge the commission to reconsider its parameters for traffic impact studies. Ardent had completed a TIA at the neighborhood’s request, but it wasn’t required.


This project would put a traffic garage at the corner of South Lamar and Gibson, with Gibson being a fairly small street, Atherton said.


“Putting a parking garage at the bottom of an inaccessible side street is a problem and, again, because this is a problem up and down South Lamar with new development, we’d like the Planning Commission to reconsider the criteria for traffic impact analysis,” Atherton said. “The criteria for traffic is really inadequate, especially when you put a 200-car garage on a tiny street like this, with the only (southbound) access to Lamar being a left turn into a chicken lane.”


Denton noted that those who lived at Gibson Residences could drive an additional block, up to Treadwell, and turn on a protected light. He added that the developers would continue to work with the city to address traffic impact issues as the project makes its way through the site development process.


The division of units will be about 85 percent 1-bedroom 1-bathroom and 15 percent 2-bedroom 1-bathroom. Commissioner Kathie Tovo noted that this likely would be a project that would trigger the new environmental impact statement, to inform the school district of additional enrollment. The project, however, was filed before Council passed the EIS requirement.


The rezoning on the three properties was approved on a vote of 7-0, with Commissioners Dave Anderson and Richard Hatfield absent from the meeting.

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