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Zoning panel sides with owner over city in rezoning case

Thursday, October 25, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Last week, the Zoning and Platting Commission sided with a Slaughter Lane property owner seeking rezoning in an ongoing case that city staffers have wrestled with for some time. The commission voted to recommend the rezoning without staff-supported right-of-way dedication that the owner decried as unfair.

 

The request to rezone 135 West Slaughter Lane between Interstate 35 and Cullen Road is intended to conform with the property’s existing use — a dental office, veterinary clinic and a water retention pond. The city annexed the property in 1997 when it received its current zoning, which is RR (Rural Residence) and Single-Family-2. The property owner is seeking a change to GR (Community Commercial), which would allow retail and office development. The site plan, which was approved in 1995, does not require dedicated right-of-way.

 

Staffers asked that, as a condition of granting the request, part of the property be set aside as 35 feet of dedicated right-of-way. Principal Planner Wendy Rhodes said that the case has been submitted three times previously, and expired on all three occasions after the right-of-way was not dedicated.

 

“It’s a good opportunity to make Cullen Lane more uniform,” said Rhodes, who explained the dedication would allow for a right-turn lane in the future.

 

The property owner fought the dedication.

 

“What the city wants to use this particular portion of the property for is a right-turn only lane, which would eliminate my client’s ability to go north out of that property and take a left on to Slaughter Lane,” said attorney John Joseph with the Houston-based law firm Coats Rose, who represents property owner Lester Euers.

 

“So, despite the fact that we create no traffic … they are holding this man’s property and this man’s zoning hostage so that they can excise from him this right-of-way that is going to make his property less valuable going forward, and it’s just not fair,” said Joseph.

 

The rezoning, explained Joseph, is purely to validate the existing use. There are no development plans for the property.

 

“There isn’t a single additional car that is added to this intersection by this application,” said Joseph. “There isn’t any proposed development. This is an existing development. It stretches credulity to think that you wouldn’t zone this appropriate with its use.”

 

The arguments made sense to most of the commissioners, who passed the recommendation for rezoning without the staff-supported dedication of right-of-way in a vote of 4-3, with commissioners Patricia Seeger, Cynthia Banks and Gabriel Rojas voting against the motion.

 

Among those who voted in favor of denying the right-of-way dedication was Chair Betty Baker.

 

“It almost seems like you’re last and we’re gonna get you,” said Baker. “We should have gotten them when we had the site plan and we had the opportunity. The county and the city looked at it and approved the site plan without requiring right-of-way. Circumstances since that time have not changed.”

 

Further complicating matters, the land that the city would like as right-of-way is rather sentimental. It is home to five oak trees and a plaque in memory of the property owner’s late father, who was particularly fond of the grove of oak trees, Joseph said. He went on to explain that trees were illegally removed last year from the property, leaving these remaining.

 

“If the developer or the owner were requiring the removal of these trees, the staff would require us to either not move them or mitigate for them,” said Joseph.

 

Rhodes with the city said the trees on the property were found not to be protected by the city arborist.

 

Commissioners did not comment directly on preservation of the memorial, save an aside from Baker, who said, “What a way to stop development: Go get memorials on everything.”

 

But Commissioner Jason Meeker spoke in favor of preserving the trees.

 

“This tree at that intersection is one of the last remaining trees. My son and I watched ‘The Lorax’ on Friday, so I’m going to speak for this tree and I’m not going to vote for this,” said Meeker. “Something much more creative and smarter can be done here to preserve the monument, to preserve that tree, and to do something better for this property in general, which is doing a of work for citizens by holding a retaining pond on it.”

 

City Council will vote on the zoning change at a future meeting.

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