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Planning Commission favors rezoning for South Austin development

Tuesday, October 9, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

The City of Austin’s Planning Commission tried a unique solution at its last meeting to foster compromise between developers who want to build dozens of condominiums and concerned residents of a South Austin neighborhood.

 

Developers PSW Homes, LLC, want to upzone a 4.7-acre lot that was zoned for single-family residences (or SF-3) just off South Lamar Boulevard. The company hopes to build condominiums and townhouses on the property, which is immediately east of Lightsey and Del Curto roads.

 

However, with no emerging agreement on how many units would be built, Commissioner Danette Chimenti moved recommend a number that no one was pushing for, and that figure – 34 units – proved to be the one that stuck.

 

Chimenti noted that because there is a valid petition from neighborhood residents opposed to the rezoning, in order for the rezoning to pass at least six Council members must vote for it.

 

“The neighborhood has a valid petition that’s very strong. When this goes to City Council all of the City Council members are going to have to be in support of this, except for one,” Chimenti said. “This motion is strictly so the developer and the neighborhood can both have impetus to get together and try to come up with something before this goes to Council.”

 

PSW Managing Member Ryan Diepenbrock said that the project would include solar-powered, green homes that he hoped would earn a 4- to 5-star rating in Austin Energy’s Green Building Program. He explained that the request to change the zoning from single family residences to townhouse and condominium (SF-6) was not about increasing density, but taking advantage of the benefits afforded the SF-6 zoning.

 

The company has also filed an alternative city subdivision application on the lot, just in case their current proposal fails. That proposal includes 22 lots, which would be divided into 44 duplex units.

 

When it came time to discuss the number of lots in the current proposal, PSW was ready to settle in the 40- to 44-unit range. The neighborhood could agree to 28 to 32 units. Staff suggested 36 units.

 

Chimenti’s motion for 34 unites passed 6-2, with commissioners Alfonso Hernandez and James Nortey voting in opposition. Commissioner Richard Hatfield was absent.

 

“I think there’s a better solution. My concerns are mainly with traffic in that area. I drive down that street frequently,” Hernandez said. “It’s been dangerous for a long time. I feel like development on that corner would actually help things. That’s just my opinion, I don’t know whether that’s true or not.”

 

Neighborhood concerns centered on drainage and the topography of what they say is a dangerous road. Bryan King cautioned against building at a location that the neighborhood calls “dead man’s curve,” and “roller coaster road.” He said that during his residence he had seen more than one car flipped in his driveway. 

 

King said that the neighborhood’s stance was that upzoning should only be used to accomplish a superior product, or deal with substantial site issues such as drainage. He said that drainage is a “huge subject” for the neighborhood because of its topography. For example, King referenced a recent project that increased houses on a property from two to 12, and as a result has flooded the house across the street five times since January.

 

As a member of the city’s Board of Adjustment, King’s testimony certainly carries some weight.

 

Nancy Maclaine, president of the South Lamar Neighborhood Association, said that while the city had assured residents that a process for capital improvements on Del Curto Road had started, they hadn’t gone so far as to institute a moratorium on development.

 

“We’ve seen really bad problems in our neighborhood based on meeting the impervious cover limits,” said Maclaine. “There are no curbs. Whatever ditches were there have filled in with dirt over the decades. It’s pretty much a mess, and there’s no infrastructure to carry that water. It’s a country lane, but it doesn’t work real well with all this high-powered infill that the city has planned.”

 

Even with a valid petition, King told the commission that the neighborhood was still willing to talk with developers.

 

“We know that development is going to take place on this property and on the surrounding properties. We fully support the property owner’s right to do what they wish with their property within the existing guidelines,” said SLNA Secretary Hilary Dyer, who cited past examples of working with developers to find compromise.

 

In a letter to PSW, the SLNA acknowledged safety benefits to the upzoning, which would allow for higher density, fewer driveways and greater flexibility in placement of stormwater detention facilities. The letter states that the neighborhood is willing to concede the upzoning,

and 32 units with “significant compensating concessions” that would be contained in a conditional overlay.

 

On that, at least, the developer agreed.

 

“We see advantages in the SF-6 site plan on drainage specifically. There are a whole multitude of options for us to use … concrete pipes, rain gardens, some things not allowed on subdivisions,” Diepenbrock said.

 

The next stop for the case is City Council.

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