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Developers may give up on zoning change for Peaceful Hill condos

Thursday, June 21, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

The City Council may have taken another step toward approving the Peaceful Hill Condominium’s rezoning, but it’s uncertain whether the development will get much further.


Last week, Council voted 5-2 to approve the rezoning on second reading, with Council Members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo voting against. Mayor Lee Leffingwell voted against the change on first reading, as did Tovo. (See In Fact Daily, May 4, 2012) However, the Mayor’s reasoning was that his colleagues were demanding too much of the property owners.


If either Morrison or Leffingwell votes no on third reading along with Tovo, there will be no change. That’s because six affirmative votes is required to pass it on third reading, since there is a valid petition opposing the change on file.


Planned condominiums at 8107 Peaceful Hill Lane in far south Austin have faced opposition from neighbors since the property owner proposed rezoning the lot in order to sell it. The first time the case was before City Council, council members added restrictions to the rezoning: reducing the allowed impervious cover from 55 to 45 percent, limiting development to a maximum of 60 dwelling units and asking for six-foot wide sidewalks as a condition of the rezoning from Development Reserve to SF-6. 


Attorney Glenn K. Weichert, who represents developers The Moore Group, told In Fact Daily that he wasn’t sure the case would return to City Council for a third reading. “The fact that Morrison changed her vote is huge,” said Weichert. “Now the mayor supported it, who didn’t before and Tovo and Morrison are opposed. I don’t see a lot of hope of getting that sixth vote,” said Weichert. “Had this passed 6-1, I think we would probably come back. And we may still.”


Neighbor John Stokes was adamant in his opposition to a public road, saying the main issue with the neighborhood was density. He agreed with Weichert that “a very, very large part of this problem is connecting automobiles to automobiles through asphalt.”


Stokes also presented drainage plans for the development in a “position paper” that outlined his views of what needed to be done with the property.


Weichert said that his client, who contracted the property in October, was beginning to doubt the current value of the land, which has been reduced through restrictions and requirements.


“Quite honestly, no we will not agree as a condition of zoning to pump drainage where there hasn’t even been a study. It’s not the appropriate time,” said Weichert. He said that the project would be a good transition between residential development to the north of the project and salvage yards that are currently to the south of the property.


“This is a good zoning…It is appropriate; you know it is,” said Weichert.


“I don’t think the project, as proposed, is supportable economically,” Weichert said. He cited in particular the requirement that developers build a public street connecting Shallot Way and Peaceful Hill Lane. “It’s tough to pay for that and reduce the number of units, and the other restrictions that are on it.”


“I would love to make this not a public access. That would solve all of these problems, except your problem, which is connectivity,” said Weichert to City Council.


Weichert’s claim that there was never any intent to have a public street there was challenged by both Council Member Chris Riley and Gary Schatz with Austin’s Transportation Department. Each of them said that the existing road was designed to be extended in the future.


“This is a situation where we have a serious public interest at stake. We have an entire subdivision just immediately south of this project that actually has a nice sidewalk infrastructure, but unfortunately we have no way to get to the nearby school on foot or on bike, no safe way to get there. … It’s a fairly dangerous situation,” said Riley. “If you could just provide this one connection, you would have safe access.”


Riley added that there was a strong case to be made that the road would mitigate traffic issues, as the existing subdivision is currently dependent on cars to get anywhere safely.


Leffingwell said that the concerns from opponents that he heard were not zoning issues, but site plan issues that should be addressed later in the process.


“I’m not suggesting that every item that has presented to you is something you should be ready to accommodate, but I would at least like to know, when we have our third reading, that a conversation has happened,” said Tovo, who added that she intends to give the case more thought before the third reading.

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