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Council rezones annexed property over objections by neighbors

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

Council unanimously sided with a long-time business on Corral Lane last week, agreeing to re-zone annexed property for a commercial use over the objections of some neighbors.

The case reflected many of the issues currently in contention, and under review, at city land commissions: entitlements under annexation; private deed restrictions with neighbors; and curtailing unwanted uses.

Attorney Terry Irion and agent Jim Bennett represented CG&S Construction at last week’s Council hearing, likely because staff recommended denying a zoning change on CG&S Construction from SF-2 to CS-MU-CO in order to match the current use of the property.

CG&S Construction has done business on its site as a construction sales and service business for the last 48 years. A good portion of that time the property was outside the city limits of Austin. Thus, CG&S Construction is a case that provided plenty of grey area for staff consideration because the use of buildings on the large property appear to have shifted pre- and post-annexation, from residential to commercial and back again.

“We don’t dispute that there was a business on the property, it’s just that there’s been spans through time when it would not be allowed under nonconforming use right now,” Director Greg Guernsey told Council when questioned on the issue.

To put it simply, shifting uses among buildings on a property is a no-no under city code. Property uses, fractional or total, are frozen at the point of annexation, as Guernsey explained. CG&S clearly had not followed city rules, a point acknowledged by the team that represented them.

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez said he was willing to forgive the transgressions, in an exchange with owner Billy Guerrero. Martinez said the Guerrero family reputation was impeccable in the neighborhood.

“I just wanted to ask, so the operation that’s been going on for four decades, you don’t plan on expanding or adding to that operation other than what’s going on there today?” Martinez asked.

“Not a single amount, that’s correct,” Guerrero responded.

“In fact, nothing will change,” Martinez said. “In fact, you’ll do whatever you can to improve the operations and minimize any impact to the neighbors?”

“Yes, sir,” Guerrero responded. “Probably increase the value of that in a residential way.”

Interim tenants, as neighbors pointed out and Irion acknowledged, had not been good choices. A tax attorney provided too much traffic. A residential tenant was too rowdy. Both uses had been pushed from the property as business finally rebounded for the family construction business.

“There was a period of time beginning in 2008 after the downturn in the economy and the general construction business where the Guerreros were trying desperately to keep everything together and not to lay off any employees,” Irion acknowledged, adding the Guerreros would not return to such choices.

Neighbors had a valid petition to protest the zoning change. Opponents weren’t exactly thrilled with city zoning options without limitations on uses, but they didn’t want to shut the business down altogether.

That point was key to Council Member Bill Spelman, who asked each neighbor testifying whether he or she would accept some limitation on side business options, if that could be negotiated in final language.

“We’re not trying to run them out of business,” said neighbor Gene Blumeyer. “All we’re trying to do is they have other business they had before the rezoning change, or it got the notice. They had three or four other businesses, auto repair shop, tax office and all that stuff there. And all that stuff adds to traffic, noise, and so we were wanted to reduce the other businesses and all the rent property.”

Some, like Mary Saucedo, were skeptical any compromise could be reached. She expressed disappointment with the decision of the Zoning and Platting Commission to support zoning changes on the property.

“This really is just that the business has outgrown our neighborhood,” Saucedo said. “There’s traffic in and out, all day and all night, tractor trailers, 18 wheelers, and roll-off dumpsters. The reason that there hasn’t been any complaints prior is because we were always told that they were grandfathered in. That’s the reason for that.”

At the point of a vote, Council appeared ready to make the zoning change but with some special consideration to the agreements that CG&S Construction will reach on a public restrictive covenants. Council Member Randi Shade expressed concerns about industrial dumpsters, and Council Member Chris Riley wanted more attention given to truck traffic on the property.

Spelman, in his exchange with Guernsey, highlighted the fact that a private restrictive covenant could limit some of the unwanted business uses on the property under the preferred zoning category. The city, however, does not typically intercede in such agreements.

Additional language for the Corral Lane zoning case will be considered when the zoning case returns to Council on June 23.

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