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Neighborhood petition forces city to give up zoning request

Tuesday, April 10, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Reaching a stalemate, City Council has opted to “indefinitely postpone” the controversial up-zoning of city property owned by the Austin Water Utility that it plans to sell.


The property, located at 3010 Honey Tree Lane near Bee Cave Road, is currently zoned as Public, but the utility was seeking a zoning change to SF-2, prior to auctioning off the parcel.


With a valid petition of 86.5 percent in play, the utility needed six of seven City Council members to vote for the proposed change. That would have given the property the same zoning as the properties around it and allowed the utility to get a better price upon sale.


But with Council Members Kathie Tovo and Laura Morrison opposed, the rest of the City Council decided not to continue the battle. Council had approved SF-1, a less intense category on first reading several weeks ago, with Tovo and Morrison voting no.


When the issue came up again last week, the neighbors remained opposed.


“I think the best characterization is that we were trying to find a solution that both sides would be willing to come to Council with. And that did not happen,” said neighbor Stanley Young. “The city zoning staff started the discussion by saying they were not going to change their recommendation of SF-2 with no other restrictions. So that set the tone for the entire discussion.”


AWU had the lot appraised, and estimated that it would be worth $217,000 with the existing Public zoning, and $271,000 with SF-1 zoning


The parcel of land is situated behind several houses, with a long, narrow access to the road. Neighbors had initially hoped that it could be turned into a park, or sold to surrounding property owners. With neither of these options on the table, the lot will retain its current zoning when it is put up for sale.


“I think that, fundamentally, when this property was all subdivided in this subdivision, it was never intended to develop this,” said Morrison.  “So now, sure, we have a responsibility to try to carefully get the value out of the land and public assets. I understand that. The bottom line is that we don’t just up-zone things so that people can make as much money as they want. So I hope that there can be a sale, there can be some discussion, and there can be some real clear guidelines that everyone can agree on.”


At this point, neighbors seem reluctant to negotiate with the city.


“We would really rather work with the actual developing entity, that is actually involved, instead of an entity that is just going to turn it around and sell it immediately,” said Young.


Young reiterated to In Fact Daily that the neighborhood had no interest in continued negotiation with the city, and would prefer to deal directly with whoever intended to develop the lot. In the absence of a change, or a vote, the case will expire in just under a year. It is unclear whether this will necessitate an 18-month hold on re-zoning requests.


If the zoning request is denied by Council, or is withdrawn, the owner is prohibited from seeking the zoning again, or a more intense zoning, for 18 months, though the city does have the option of selling it as a publically-zoned lot.


“We are not here opposing the sale of the property, but we do oppose the speculative up-selling of this property,” said neighbor Oscar Leal. “We hope if we stay with our petition, at that stage we will be able to negotiate with anyone who might purchase the property and develop it.”

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