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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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ZAP approves affordable housing project next to Wells Branch MUD
Tuesday, November 22, 2011 by Elizabeth Pagano
Plans for an affordable multifamily housing project on FM 1325 have rankled Wells Branch MUD residents, but it remains unclear how much weight their opposition will carry. Though those who came to the Zoning and Platting Commission last week to speak against the development are the adjacent neighbors, they are not city residents.
Developers plan to build a multifamily development of about 255 units on the property and are seeking permanent zoning, from Interim-RR to MF-3. The property in question is in Austin but surrounded on all sides by land that is not.
In addition to showing up to protest the zoning change, the neighbors from the Wells Branch MUD have also written a petition against the development. However, as agent Jim Bennett pointed out to In Fact Daily, they don’t technically have any standing, as Wells Branch is not within city limits. Also, their petition will not have legal bearing on City Council’s decision because the property is not being rezoned; instead, it is establishing permanent zoning.
“A petition will not be binding, anyway, but it certainly has influence,” said Chair Betty Baker.
The petition protests any change that would zone the property anything other than Rural Residential. So far, 83 people have signed it.
Opponents assert that the change would place an undue burden on local school, fire, and police resources. The petition also states that the development would be adjacent to property included in the Wells Branch neighborhood plan and would “substantially deviate from the developmental considerations” of the plan.
Many of those who spoke at the hearing testified that there is simply not enough infrastructure to support the multifamily development and that there would be safety risks from increased traffic, especially for those walking to bus stops along roads without sidewalks.
“If they do this, someone will die,” said adjacent property owner Kelly Landry. He explained that fast-moving cars and a lack of stoplights and traffic lights make the area dangerous for cars and pedestrians alike. Landry also worried that, in an emergency, firefighters would be stymied by high-voltage transmission lines on the property.
Adjacent property owner James Burns told the commission that he was under the impression that the tract would remain undeveloped.
“When I bought my home, we had the understanding that this was a preserve, that is was not going to be developed. What was on the map when we purchased our home was that it was under consideration for parks,” said Burns.
Bennett said this was likely never the case.
“We can’t do too much about what they were told about by realtors eight or 10 years ago. But, you shouldn’t have to have a degree in planning to realize that you are on Burnet Road, which is a commercial street, and you are probably not going to see a big park on a big piece of property in a commercial area,” said Bennett.
After discussion, the commission recommended the lot be granted MF-3 zoning, with MF-1 density and a Conditional Overlay limiting traffic to 2,000 trips per day and a compliance with compatibility standards.
The commission voted 6-0 to approve the recommendation, with Commissioner Gregory Bourgeois absent.
Bennett told In Fact Daily that he will be crunching numbers before the case comes to City Council in order to determine whether the commission’s recommendations would allow for the 16 to 17 units per acre the project is aiming for. If so, he will go with their recommendation when the case is before City Council.
Bennett testified that funding for the project will come from the Austin Housing Finance Corporation, and 100 percent of the units will be for 60 percent or lower median income residents. The property is intended to qualify for the city’s S.M.A.R.T. Housing program, and Bennett expressed concern to the commission that their zoning suggestion could endanger its qualification.
Baker told Bennett that she was sympathetic but would still be voting to support the motion.
“I’m all for S.M.A.R.T. Housing, but I don’t think it’s very smart to put S.M.A.R.T. Housing out in a warehouse and commercial area,” said Baker.
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