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ZAP approves variance to build private road to Steiner Ranch land

Thursday, October 20, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano

Neighbors at the Steiner Ranch subdivision are gearing up for a fight over a proposed mixed use development but on Tuesday night they lost the first round.


Sarah Crocker, agent for the developer, convinced the Zoning and Platting Commission to approve a variance to allow developers to build a private road in the critical water quality zone. The road would provide access to two lots, which may be home to a proposed 200-unit apartment building and a storage facility in the future. Commissioners voted unanimously in favor of the variance.


A handful of neighbors told commissioners they were concerned about traffic, fire safety, and the potential environmental impact of the development.


“If your subdivision was being heard before us, would your attitude be the same?” asked Commissioner Gregory Bourgeois. “Because everyone has the attitude for the next person, after their home has already been built.”


“We’re talking about a development that is small, relative to Steiner Ranch, at the beginning of the development, in a community of 4,300 homes that were all constructed in the same natural space that was once a bird habitat, that had water quality impact, just like this, all the homes that you live in,” said Bourgeois.


The residents who were present to oppose the variance spoke against the development in general. They worried that extra traffic could further compromise emergency evacuations. Steiner Ranch’s single exit proved problematic during recent fires.


They also objected to the closure of a trail on the property.


“By removing the trails, the City of Austin would be affecting a regulatory taking and perhaps inverse condemnation. In any event, it would decrease area property values,” said Carla George, who warned of an “inevitable stream of litigation, injunctions, and costly and time-consuming battles to develop land into a use nobody but the developer wants.”


“It kind of surprised me tonight that a lot of your rebuttal and anger at this happening is that you will no longer have access to private property,” said Vice-Chair Patricia Seeger. “You probably shouldn’t have had access to private property, unless that was part of the agreement, but now they want to develop it, and you want to keep your trail. At this point I don’t know why that should be a consideration, and it probably isn’t.”


Crocker explained to In Fact Daily that they are planning to vacate a trail that cuts through conservation land on the property – the only such trail in Steiner Ranch. Crocker said that the purpose of closing the trail was to protect the land, and that only a little-used section of the trail system would be affected.


“It’s probably not the most appropriate place to have a trail. There are no other trails being erased…It’s just about that particular, very sensitive area through the Black-capped Vireo habitat,” said Crocker


The tract is about 80 acres total, but more than 40 acres are preserve land. The majority of the property that can be developed is across the critical and transition zones. Without the driveway variance, the property probably could not be developed.


Brad Jackson with Planning and Development Review Department, explained to the commission that denying the variance could have legal ramifications. “From all the meetings I’ve had on these exact issues, and granting these types of variances, if you do not grant access to the property, you could be creating a taking. If we are not allowing them to develop that portion of their property the city has, in effect, taken that land,” said Jackson.


Crocker hopes to work with the neighborhood in the future, and expressed confusion at being rebuffed prior to the board meeting. Neighbors have organized an online petition, and have promised to remain engaged in the site plan process.

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