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Waterfront board considers guidelines for Lady Bird Lake overlay

Thursday, May 12, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

The city’s Waterfront Planning Advisory Board began work on decisions that will impact every property within the Lady Bird Lake waterfront overlay this week.


Those include decisions about height allowances and additional concessions that developers could use to seek added height, which is bound to be a point of controversy for neighborhoods like Bouldin Creek. Board members will also consider whether specific sub-districts will have to comply with design guidelines.


Although board Chair Jim Knight was absent this week, he researched current code to come up with suggestions for core shoreline districts:


South Shore Central, which includes the area from East Bouldin Creek on the east to South First on the west, for instance, would have a maximum height defined by a proposed height control map, which is similar to every property within the two-dozen or so sub-districts along the shore.


Setbacks in South Shore Central, one of the hottest areas for shoreline redevelopment, would be 10 feet on front yards and side streets, plus 5 feet on rear yards. Maximum building coverage would be 80 percent, with maximum impervious coverage at 90 percent and no maximum floor-to-area ratio defined.


By comparison, nearby Rainey Street and Zilker Park subdistricts have slightly larger proposed setbacks and similar impervious coverage requirements. In fact, most tracts on the shoreline have 70 percent maximum building coverage and 90 percent maximum impervious requirements. 


Those are just suggestions, based on the current ordinance. The Waterfront Planning Advisory Board is struggling to put additional specifics to the general ideals that Knight outlined in his spreadsheet proposal: development guidelines currently suggested in ordinances for each waterfront overlay sub-district in regards to front and side yard setbacks, coverage and impervious cover limits, and maximum floor-to-area-ratios for every sub-district.


The height of proposed buildings for each sub-district, from University/Deep Eddy to Montopolis River Terrace, remains undefined. Various setbacks and cover limits, however, were suggested for each district.


Lacking Knight’s presence, the four board members at this week’s meeting took a look at those documents and discussed the specifics it needed: further potential discussion of green building standards; cross-section maps to view limits on each waterfront sub-district; a matrix of requirements for each specific additional height allowance; and discussion of compatibility standards on a district-by-district basis.


Additional specifics will likely be taken up in a workshop session at the end of the month. In the meantime, commissioners at Tuesday night’s meeting agreed they would prefer to see a visual cross-section for each district and create a specific matrix to outline exactly what criteria must be outlined to earn additional height. The past ordinance, they agreed, had been too vague.


“We’re in agreement this isn’t just a giveaway,” said Brooke Bailey, who chaired the meeting. “We need something that establishes an understanding of what is required of the intensity of each project.”


That led to a discussion of the committee’s leeway. Liaison Susan Villarreal, in a discussion with the commission members, noted that some of the broader issues being discussed could be folded into a criteria manual. That would create an option for the committee somewhere between directives and ordinance.


“As long as we put in an ordinance, it becomes a set of minimum requirements that are written in legalese,” said Commissioner Daniel Woodroffe. “If we use an environmental criteria manual, it can be constantly evolving and improving versus what is going on. We don’t want create a change for the next water garden 2.0.”


Villarreal noted that some areas near the shoreline, just like the University Neighborhood Overlay, had waived their compatibility standards. Such exceptions needed to be taken into the consideration under final overlay recommendations, she said.


The work sessions appear to guarantee more specifics on the process.


“Where four or more or gathered,” commissioner Robert Pilgrim suggested, alluding to a biblical passage, “we need to work.”

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