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ZAP can’t come to an agreement on left turn lane in north Austin

Monday, April 25, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

A parade of representatives from neighboring homeowners’ associations spoke against a proposed left turn lane on FM 2222 in north Austin at the Zoning and Platting Commission last week. It was the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of the Champion sisters, who have battled the city for the past 20 years over issues related to their Austin land.


The commission split its vote 3-3 and was unable to make a recommendation on the new lane.


Attorney Michael Whellan represented Josie Champion, Juanita Meier and Mary Roberson, who were not in attendance due to illness. Whellan came before the commission to request an amendment to a 1992 restrictive covenant agreement in order to allow a left turn lane on FM 2222. The turn would allow for easier access to the Champion’s property.


TxDOT initially approved the turn lane as part of the FM 2222/ Loop 360 intersection renovation but withdrew approval when it was brought to their attention that there was a restrictive covenant in place prohibiting a turn lane.


Whellan argued that the initial analysis of the roadway conditions that led to the restrictive covenant was almost 20 years old, and given changes to FM 2222, the proposed turn is now safer than the u-turn currently in place.


“The roadway has changed,” said Whellan. “There is a significant amount of work that was just described … including, I might add, additional condemnation of land of the Champion property to widen the road so there is a safer alternative.”


Not everyone was swayed by this argument. “Some intersections, for various reasons, are simply more dangerous,” said Commissioner Donna Tiemann.Balancing loss of life with maximizing economic development doesn’t balance for me. I haven’t heard anything that justifies yet that not granting this is going to make the tract undevelopable or that safety is improved.”


A parade of representatives from neighboring homeowner’s associations argued that an unprotected left turn at that location would be dangerous.


“Since 1992, traffic has gotten worse, the safety needs have gotten greater, the need for right- in/right-out driveways has actually increased, not decreased,” said Carol Torgrimson of the 2222 Coalition of Neighborhood Associations.


George Zapalac, development services manager with the Planning and Development Review Department, disagreed. “Staff feels that the conditions have changed sufficiently to allow the left turns in only at this time,” he said.


Commissioners Patricia Seeger, Cynthia Banks, and Tiemann voted against the left turn, while Chair Betty Baker and commissioners Sandra Baldridge and Gregory Bourgeois voted in favor.


“I’ve gotten more emails on this than, I think, any other case I can remember,” said Bourgeois. “I’m empathetic to the concern that a left turn produces more of a conflict, potentially, than a right turn. However, if you look at our traffic, how would you get here today without ever making any left turns? How would you function in a traffic system without left turns? The fact is there are left turns on all roads that we drive on.”


That was enough for Barker, who responded to Bourgeois’ argument, “Mr. Bourgeois, it’s hard to persuade me, trust me. But your comment on how long it would take to get places if you couldn’t take a left turn, that persuaded me.”

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