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Stylist, neighborhood battle over upzoning home for business

Monday, August 15, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

The Planning Commission postponed a vote to rezone a property in the Dawson neighborhood last week, something of a victory for a hair stylist looking to upzone and expand her business after a long struggle to pay her mortgage.


Dawson, in south Austin, was the first area to have a neighborhood plan. Stylist Kathleen Pixley bought a small yellow house fronting Oltorf Boulevard, right next door to the H-E-B, six years ago, with the hope the neighborhood association would allow her to upzone her property. Neighborhood leaders declined, however, and Pixley went forward with a home occupation use that required no zoning change.


When the economy went south, Pixley’s business suffered. She put her house on the market for 14 months. Then, once more, Pixley asked Dawson if she could pursue a zoning change in order to add two more hair stylists to the front end of her house, while she continued to live in the back.


“I know my neighbors think I’m going to up and sell my property,” Pixley told the Planning Commission Tuesday night. “I’m not going anywhere. I plan to stay there and run my business and live on the property.”


The problem for commissioners, however, was the leap in zoning needed to make Pixley’s business happen. Recommended zoning on the property would move it from Single Family-3 (SF-3) all the way to General Office-Mixed Use-Conditional Overlay-Neighborhood Plan, completely skipping the more appropriate Neighborhood Office (NO) category.


Her neighbors, led by Rebecca Sheller of the Dawson Neighborhood contact team, said they feared commercial creep. Pixley saw an effective buffer between H-E-B and her neighboring properties that faced Euclid. Dawson saw encroachment on a plan that encouraged commercial development along South Congress and South First streets and not along Oltorf Boulevard.


Those arguments, however, did not hold up with commissioners. While most agreed that GO was too intensive for the property, some struggled with the concept of GO-MU being a proper solution. Was this zoning recommendation the only way, asked Commissioner Saundra Kirk, to get both residential and business on the property? The proposal was to possibly use GO zoning but with neighborhood office uses or something similar.


Sheller made the “Who could be next?” argument – what else could go on the property if Pixley sold the house – but was rebuffed by Chair Dave Sullivan. Sullivan noted the commission could place any number of constraints within the zoning, including limiting the uses on site to personal services. If the property was to sell, that could mean a CPA rather than a hair stylist, Sullivan said, but it wouldn’t necessarily mean a significant commercial upgrade.


Sheller said Dawson was open to development and had even encouraged it along major corridors, mainly South Congress and South First streets. Kirk, however, questioned the characterization of Oltorf, with traffic of 17,000 cars per day, as a residential-oriented street.


The solution to Pixley’s problem might just come down to timing. Planning Commission already had initiated a code change that would place personal services under the NO zoning category. Such a move, if applied to Pixley’s house, would apply less intensive business and land use guidelines.


That doesn’t mean Pixley is out of the woods. Her 900-square-foot home would require four parking spots as a business, she told the commission. That would seem logical for three stylists. Pixley, with the help of her brother, had designed a 900-square-foot concrete pad in her front yard to accommodate cars, plus an existing driveway for handicapped access.


Under GO zoning, Pixley could be entitled to 80 percent impervious cover. It appeared, from Tuesday night’s discussion, that a NO zoning category might drop the impervious cover on the site down to 60 percent.


Commissioner Danette Chimenti also took note of the adjacent neighbor’s concern that homes in Dawson were limited to single-family use. Other properties that had converted to commercial use were required to get 60 percent of their neighbors to sign off on a change. There was some back and forth between commissioners as to whether combined commercial and residential use, under MU, might actually be considered as “residential” under that agreement.


Staff did not recommend the changes to zoning or the neighborhood plan for Pixley’s property, citing the Dawson neighborhood plan. However, the majority of commissioners appeared inspired by Pixley’s sincerity and moxie: She represented herself. She did her own legwork. Her brother agreed to design and pour the concrete for her proposed parking spaces.


On the cusp of a vote, Planner Stephen Rye noted that a denial of the GO zoning – which appeared imminent – would force Pixley to wait another 18 months to file a second zoning change. Given the likelihood that a new zoning category might be a solution, the commission agreed to make no recommendation at all, allowing Pixley another chance to negotiate with neighbors.

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