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Planning panel opposes zoning change for Brentwood

Tuesday, November 6, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

On Thursday, the Austin City Council will consider whether to grant a zoning change for six tracts of land just east of McCallum High School. When the matter came before the Planning Commission, they sided with neighborhood opponents, voting unanimously against recommending the rezoning that would make way for a massive development in Brentwood.


Currently, the lot is largely undeveloped, sitting just south of Koenig Lane and west of Lamar Boulevard, near Sunshine Lane and Houston Street. In all, the proposed site is comprised of six tracts for a total of 6.6 acres. The applicant is seeking a change to MF-6 zoning, which would allow for increased floor-to-area ratio on the land, and enable the construction of a proposed 330 to 350 apartment units.


The property owners are George Shia and the Texas State Troopers Association. The developer has offered to build nine units at 60 percent of the area’s median family income (MFI), and 24 to 26 units at 80 percent MFI. They also highlighted the location in one of the city’s core transit areas, which is well-served by public transportation. 


There was plenty of opposition: a valid petition of people opposing the rezoning – just more than 20 percent of the property owners located near the tracts; vocal opposition from the Brentwood Neighborhood Association; and the recent unanimous “no” vote from the Brentwood Neighborhood Planning Contact Team. The Planning Commission backed the opponents and voted 8-0 against the rezoning proposal and associated neighborhood plan amendment. Commissioner Richard Hatfield was absent.


“I think there’s a lot of reasons to vote against this project,” said Commissioner Danette Chimenti. “I think that this project pushes too much. It pushes the FLUM (future land use map) too much. The school there concerns me. The layout of the project concerns me. The 80 percent MFI – I don’t see that being helpful, because that’s market rent.”


Clad in the increasingly familiar blue “I heart Brentwood” T-shirts, opponents of the development filled the City Council chambers. 


Don Leighton-Burwell, who is secretary of the Neighborhood Planning Contact Team, explained that the neighborhood had already upzoned the land willingly as part of their planning process, but that was not an invitation for “extreme upzoning” such as that suggested by developers.


Burwell told the commission that without any zoning change, the applicant could build 285 units. The change would allow for the proposed 385 units that he deemed “completely out of scale” with the neighborhood.


“It’s a massive leap, even by downtown standards, and completely out of scale with the surrounding single-family homes and our public high school,” said Burwell.


Neighbors also expressed concern that the increased traffic would adversely impact schools and roads, despite a Traffic Impact Analysis and Educational Impact Statement that said otherwise.


Attorney John Joseph of Coats Rose Yale Ryman & Lee, who spoke on behalf of the landowners, reiterated the information found in the studies.


“I can only do what the staff asks us to do and hire traffic engineers – competent traffic engineers – for a lot of money to do the studies that are necessary to determine whether or not this proposal is safe. And it’s safe,” said Joseph.


Joseph also cited an educational impact statement that said the nearby schools could accommodate the additional students from the proposed development. The EIS also says there are no safety concerns with the development. “I don’t know what to tell you, other than what the educational impact statement told us,” said Joseph.


Chad Dehipitiya, a McCandless Street resident of 16 years, made a plea for smart growth, but against this particular proposal.


“Allowing selective zoning to accommodate one of the highest-density projects in Austin would do irreparable damage,” Dehipitiya said. “I know there’s numerous people moving into Austin. You need places for these people to live, but you don’t have to stick everybody in Brentwood.”

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