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Board votes to remove restrictive covenant on South Austin tract

Tuesday, January 22, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Waterfront Planning Advisory Board has put its stamp of approval on plans for a tricky parcel of land in south Austin last week.


The lot, which is just over half an acre, is located at 500 South First Street, sitting south of Barton Springs Road behind the Austin Energy building. As part of a 1974 rezoning application, the lot was bound by a public restrictive covenant, which the board agrees should be terminated. The property is located adjacent to the Park Public Utility District.


Originally, the tract was part of a larger parcel. Since then, it has been subdivided, rezoned, sold, and included in the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood plan. Currently, the tract is undeveloped, and zoned Multi Family-3 everywhere except a southern 10-foot strip that is zoned Single Family-3.


The restrictive covenant, which can only be amended or terminated with City Council approval, mandates four things. It requires a 10-foot residential zoning strip along the southern property line, a six-foot high privacy fence along the northern border of the 10-foot strip, and prohibits access from the tract to South Third Street. It also limits the land to use as vehicle parking without an approved special permit.


Though the current owner, Michael Martin, has no immediate plans to build, all of these restrictions conspire to make development impossible. The last provision, which limits access, limits it entirely subsequent to subdivision. The parcel, without access to South Third Street, is land-locked.


Consultant Alice Glasco further pointed out that the terms of the covenant are in conflict with an approved 2005 plat, which she said assumed access to South Third Street.


Lee Heckman, who works for the city’s Planning and Development Review Department, said he was unsure whether the city was aware that they were subdividing land into a land-locked parcel. At the time of subdivision, it was still united under one owner.


“I think in an ideal world, if we lived in an ideal world, if we had known of the restrictive covenants, we would have dealt with them at that time,” said Heckman.


While staff agrees that the residential strip and privacy fence do provide a buffer to the neighborhood, the fact that compatibility standards are now in place makes those restrictions somewhat moot. Additionally, requiring a special permit to develop anything other than a parking lot a bit onerous, given the changes in development and development standards in the area since 1974.


Attorney Jerry Harris of Brown McCarroll told the board that a private restrictive covenant between the property owner and the neighborhood would be put in place. Among other things, it would limit development to four single-family residential units and require the developer to comply with neighborhood compatibility standards currently in place or those in place at the time a site plan is submitted – whichever is more restrictive.


Given all these things, the board recommended the termination of the restrictive covenant, voting 5-1 with Board Members Cory Walton abstaining and Roy Mann absent. They made time to remark on the effective work with the neighborhood, which quelled previous opposition to the change.


“The fact that all you guys really listened to the neighborhood and have been talking to a lot of people, I really appreciate. I see it at as a good sign that nobody is here representing and arguing against it,” said Board Member Eric Schultz.


The case is scheduled to go before City Council on January 31.

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