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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Lack of proper zoning jeopardizes Oak Hill business
Monday, July 23, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano
Awaiting legal answers, the Planning Commission has opted to postpone considering a request for change to the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) for property located at 7401 Old Bee Caves Road.
The owners of the property, who mistakenly thought they had General Office zoning, are requesting a change to the FLUM so that they can continue to operate their landscaping business. While the property is currently zoned Rural Residential, the map has designated it as Mixed Residential. The owners would prefer Mixed Use.
The Planning Commission had two questions they hope will be resolved before Tuesday’s meeting. First, they asked city lawyers to confirm that the land would definitively have to comply with the Save Our Springs Ordinance.
“If they get this change, and it is discovered that they are grandfathered, then they don’t have to comply with SOS and that would be a pretty bad situation,” said Commissioner Danette Chimenti.
Commissioner Saundra Kirk asked that staff examine the case to see if there is any way the current business, which has been in operation for the past eight years, could continue without the requested plan amendment.
“I’m uncomfortable with thinking we put a company out of business,” said Kirk. “However, I could not support a neighborhood plan that would change this and not only jeopardize the SOS regulations concerning it… It also just seems like this is just an inappropriate use.”
Agent Ron Thrower of Thrower Design explained that the current land use, though not legal, did exist at the time the plan was adopted. There is no Certificate of Occupancy for the current use, and the owners are in the process of resolving a red tag on the property for a separate issue involving a fence. In order to get the proper zoning, the FLUM must be changed.
“Frankly, I was a little taken aback by staff’s recommendation, because I thought we went through the neighborhood plan process, and the neighborhood wants to see other uses than residential here. They want to see personal improvement services, art workshop, personal services, plant nursery, professional office, there’s a whole list.”
Though a letter from the Oak Hill Planning Contact Team states they would support a change to the FLUM, the list of uses the neighborhood would like to see would restrict the Mixed Use zoning through a conditional overlay.
“What the neighborhood is really saying they want are Neighborhood Mixed Uses,” said Kirk. “Even if we gave this MU, Mixed Use, there’s nothing that would directly benefit the neighbors for their criteria for walkability, for accessibility to services.”
Though the Oak Hill Planning Contact Team supports the change, staff objects. This mirrors the situation when the neighborhood plan was adopted, in 2008.
Senior Planner Maureen Meredith explained that during the neighborhood planning process there was neighborhood support for Mixed Use zoning along Old Bee Caves. However, the city was concerned about the narrow right-of-way, curves and low-water crossings on the road.
“Even though the people in the planning process did say ‘Mixed Use,’ they also said it was a very dangerous road… The planners concluded that perhaps intensifying the land uses along Old Bee Caves Road was not a good idea,” said Meredith.
Meredith said that when the area was annexed, there were a number of properties that had existing heavy uses of land.
“We were concerned about what to do with them. Do we recognize them? Do we give them their appropriate zoning that they need so they can continue in perpetuity – that use that was, perhaps, not the most appropriate use for its location?” said Meredith
At the time, the City Attorney concluded that the issue should be addressed during the neighborhood planning process.
“If planning staff felt that an existing use was not appropriate, then we shouldn’t really give them that zoning. So that’s what we did,” said Meredith.
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