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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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ZAP denies neighbors extra access point in change-of-use request
Tuesday, September 6, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano
The Zoning and Platting Commission may have been impressed with the neighbors’ request, but they were unable to consent to their wishes.
The Cielo development came before the board to request a conditional use permit for change-of-use, from general office to medical office on approximately 8,000 square feet of the property at 1250 S. Capital of Texas Highway (Loop 360). The change is anticipated to generate an additional 218 vehicle trips per day.
Neighbors spoke in opposition to the change, asking the commission to require an additional access point, one that would run through their neighborhood, be a condition of the change.
“I think this is the first time we have had a neighborhood come and request connectivity with a commercial site. To request more traffic through their neighborhood, it’s usually the other way around and I want to applaud you for recognizing that connectivity is one of the major issues that this city has. I guess I’m a little startled with the reverse of the ‘don’t build it in my neighborhood’,” said Commissioner Sandra Baldridge.
Baldridge encouraged the neighbors “to fight for every inch of concrete on 360 that you can get, to get traffic moving through there” when an upcoming study examines the area.
Paul Schuman, a resident of the area for 31 years, is already fighting, and described a traffic situation which he perceives getting steadily worse. Schuman was vice president of the Lost Creek Neighborhood Association when Cielo was built, and worked with the city on its zoning at that time.
“The traffic at Lost Creek and 360 is already so high, that even a small increase in traffic could trigger a large impact. It’s like the old adage of the straw that broke the camel’s back – we’ve incremented ourselves into this kind of a situation, where traffic is almost unbearable in this neighborhood of Cielo center, not all due to Cielo center, but due to a lot of incremental changes that have occurred over the 30 years,” said Schuman.
“Decisions made in the 80s are actually why we are so congested with traffic now. There has not been enough access to 360 provided, there hasn’t been enough internal accesses within those developments,” said Schuman.
“It’s my understanding that the neighborhood desires more connectivity. And I know the commission knows that I am a huge proponent of connectivity, but we’re dealing with an 8,000 square foot change in use, trying to make connectivity going through a residential neighborhood, that’s a different situation,” said Ron Thrower of Thrower Design, who was representing the applicant.
“I don’t think this is the right time to deal with it. I fully recognize that 360 is bottlenecked and is a parking lot on occasions. I do not think that the 200 vehicle trips are going to compound that situation noticeably,” said Thrower
Barbara Schuman described the neighborhood as “frantic” over the current traffic situation, and urged the commission to take it seriously.
“We do take it seriously. We take everything we do, in our actions here, very seriously. I have a grandson who was in an accident there when he was less than a year old, and it was so intense that it knocked the shoes off of his feet,” said Chair Betty Baker. “All we have on the agenda tonight is Cielo and the increase for this traffic at this location, for this use. We cannot solve or correct the rest of it, I’m sorry.”
Ultimately, the commission agreed, unanimously, that this was not an appropriate time to broach larger questions of connectivity. The zoning change would not apply to most of the building, and the change in traffic was too slight. ZAP voted 6-0, with Gabriel Rojas absent, to approve the change.
Following the case, Commissioners Patricia Seeger and Baldridge met with the Schumans, and discussed the possibility of establishing connectivity through other means. They said they would be looking into the possibility with the City Council members that appointed them.
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