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Panel OKs rezoning for limited retail center near Circuit of Americas

Thursday, November 29, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Zoning and Platting Commission has voted unanimously to upzone a 16.8-acre tract just east of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and north of the Circuit of the Americas racetrack, hoping to pave the way for a retail center.


If the rezoning wins approval from Ausitn City Council approval, the change will allow Limited Retail development on most of the tract, and General Retail development on slightly less than six acres of the land. However, the property owner, Equinox Power Systems Inc., will have to deal with a private restrictive covenant that was attached at the time of sale to prevent competition with the adjacent land.


Though the commission could do little about the terms of that agreement, they granted the zoning change, making a special point to allow some of the uses – like retail, grocery and bakery – that are specifically prohibited by the private agreement. When, and if, the private agreement ever expires, developers will be able to take advantage of that ruling.


“I apologize for the position we’ve taken, but someone was sort of selfish in what they were doing. … It’s not appropriate land use,” said Chair Betty Baker.


Despite the limitations, developers hope soon to start construction on what they are calling Ross Road Center, at 5501½ Ross Road. Current plans call for the construction of a self-service car wash and two sit-down restaurants, among other retail stores. The plans for phase one call for two 11,000 square-foot strip buildings set back from the road.


Jim Witliff of Land Answers Inc. said that after the recent success of the Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix, which drew 117,000 fans to the Circuit of Americas track on Nov. 18, “there is a lot more demand.”


“The folks in this area, including Del Valle ISD, and everyone I spoke to in the neighborhood, are just crying for services in this area,” Witliff said. “And I think it’s time. I think that services are coming. Do they have a list of people that are waiting? No, they do not. These are small-time developers that are just trying to do the right thing.”


Commissioner Rahm McDaniel said, “I’m familiar with the area, and you’re absolutely right about that. It’s crying out for services. There’s no doubt about that. And I’m glad to see people are doing something out here to do something for the neighborhood. But I think there’s just as much need for pedestrian-oriented services as there are for automotive-oriented services.”


McDaniel also pointed out that there were a number of car-accessible services, but few places to walk to in the area.


“Maybe they’ll have an ice cream shop,” said Wittliff. “One of the problems is they were prohibited by retail services in general by the private restrictive covenant,” said Wittliff. “I mean there are a lot of uses that would be perfect on this site. I mean a grocery store? Home run. A drugstore like a CVS or Walgreens? Home run. But they can’t do them.”


Though Wittliff said that owners were “forced to agree” to the covenant in order to purchase the land, commissioners did not see that as their problem to solve.


Baker pointed out that the city should not involve itself in private restrictive covenants, and limit their decision to what is appropriate for the land.


“If the obstacle to serving the neighborhood in the way that it needs to be served is a matter of the landowner negotiating with the other landowners, I’m not exactly certain why we’re supposed to play the role of helping you guys capitulate to poor negotiating,” said McDaniel.


McDaniel said: “It just seems sad that the parties that are involved can’t find a way to work this out. Because you are absolutely right. Those are the kinds of services the neighborhood needs. It’s a shame they have to drive all the way up to the HEB on William Cannon and 35.”

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