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Parents argue that condos will create traffic problems for school

Friday, May 4, 2012 by Kimberly Reeves

Developers appear to be turning to higher-density single-family construction, such as the Peaceful Hill Condominiums, to provide some of the buffer between industrial uses and residential neighborhoods in South Austin.


Peaceful Hills Condominiums was one of the final zoning cases at Council last week, one with firm opposition and a valid petition but clear support from the majority of Council.


South Austin neighborhoods are notorious for their proximity to uses such as auto salvage yards and storage businesses. The Moore Group has designed a 60-unit project, with SF-6 zoning, on just over 9.5 acres zoned primarily Development Reserve and owned by four property owners.


The prime concern of neighbors was the traffic off the property onto Mairo Street, which could eventually be punched through and run from South Congress past Williams Elementary School. Austin Independent School District constructed the elementary school without a roundabout driveway for dropping off children.


“I’m with the friends of Williams Elementary School, and we think Williams is the missing link in this entire discussion so far,” said John Stokes, who spoke first and handed a petition signed by school parents. “The applicant’s front door is 350 feet from the front door of the elementary school.”


One mother argued that even Austin ISD recognized the area was unsafe for young children to traverse, sending a bus to the nearby Parkridge Gardens subdivision, transporting children to a school less than a five-minute walk away. Another speaker argued the traffic counts did not include the potential extension over to South Congress, which would significantly increase traffic.


Council Member Bill Spelman asked the mother whether traffic calming and speed zoning limits night allay the fears of the neighborhood. The answer was “yes” on that issue, but she noted other concerns. Those other concerns, about drainage on the property, did not appear to get much traction at Council.

Other speakers talked about the hazards of the narrow road when parents lined up along the shoulder to drop off and pick up children. The zoning case had a valid petition signed by 39 percent of the local residents, which Stokes said was even more significant given the property was surrounded on one side by an auto salvage yard and on the other side by single-family residents.


Those who have brought property forward through the land use commissions – this one went through the Zoning and Platting Commission – often have difficulty making choices on the use of what is usually un-zoned land. At various times, ZAP has deemed the area too industrial for single-family residential use and too close to residential uses to be zoned as an industrial property.


Moore argued, in short, that SF-6 zoning made more sense than the adjacent SF-2 zoning because of the property’s proximity to industrial uses. These three-bedroom houses, built with condominium standards on smaller lots, would be cheaper to build and be sold at roughly $100 per square foot, or $175,000.


In his final rebuttal before the vote, Ed Moore from The Moore Group noted Peaceful Condominiums would improve the area’s access to the school, adding a sidewalk from the Parkridge Gardens subdivision to the school. It was not the developer’s job to make a school with problems safe, Moore said.


“The existing property is a forest that, frankly, is used as a campground for the homeless,” Moore said. “It’s dangerous to the neighborhood this property isn’t developed.”


The final vote on the zoning was 5-2, with Council Member Kathie Tovo and Mayor Lee Leffingwell voting against the zoning change, which was on first reading only. Council Member Chris Riley, who made the motion, moved the ZAP recommendation forward, which included no gates on the subdivision, a local traffic impact study and access to Parkridge Gardens via Shallot Way. The zoning recommendation also limited the property to no more than 60 units, while zoning would allow up to 66 units, or roughly 7 units per acre.

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