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Grumbling from neighbors postpones hearing on S. Lamar condo project

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

A proposed development at South Lamar Boulevard and Riverside Drive hit its first stumbling block – at its first city meeting Monday night at the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board.


The project is slated to be built on the site of what is presently a Taco Cabana at 211 South Lamar. Developers are seeking Planned Unit Development, or PUD, zoning which allows them 96 feet in height, as opposed to the current 60 feet allowed under CS zoning. In return, they propose such community benefits as ground-floor retail, extended sidewalk improvements, tree preservation, three-star green building compliance, water quality controls, rent-free space to the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and money or space dedicated to the city’s affordable housing.


When completed, the building will be home to ground floor retail, a public plaza and up to 175 condominiums.


The Bridges Condominium Association, the Zilker Neighborhood Association and Save Town Lake all spoke to the board and requested more time to consider the case. Winstead attorney Steve Drenner spoke on behalf of the developers, and asked that the case be heard, saying the ripple effect in terms of delay would be “fairly considerable.”


The board voted unanimously in favor of the postponement, and cited their own concerns in doing so.


“It’s a pretty prime location, and we need to be sure what is going to be built there,” said Chair Brooke Bailey. “We’ve seen renderings in the newspaper… This is a very important case for us, and for the city.”


Board Member Cory Walton said the board’s rules and regulations call for a site plan, and noted that the only rendering that they had seen was printed in the Austin Business Journal.


Despite assurances from Drenner that his presentation would include renderings, and protestations that it is up to city staff to determine what materials are given to the board, Board Member Roy Mann had strong words about the omission.


“In your presentation I did hear you reference zoning and PUD, but you did not reference the Waterfront Overlay Ordinance. And I think any applicant or representative that comes before this board and ignores the existence of the ordinance and prefers not to speak to the points and the sections of the ordinance rules and responsibilities and over the responsibilities of the applicant –  I think it’s in disregard of the need to present wholly, completely and fairly,” said Mann.


Drenner explained that, if given the opportunity to show the project and review staff’s work, the board would find the project is in total compliance with the ordinance.


“As part of the zoning case, we ask for not one modification to the Waterfront Overlay Ordinance,” said Drenner. “In fact, I think you’ll see that we both meet the spirit and the letter of the Waterfront Overlay Ordinance.”


After Monday night, that still remains to be seen, as several neighborhood groups were successful in postponing the case until next month. Jack Graham, with Save Our Town Lake told the board that he would also like to see renderings.


Lorraine Atherton spoke on behalf of the Zilker Neighborhood Association, asking for a postponement and  presenting a letter to the board that detailed their opposition of the project.


Robert Wilson, who is the president of the Bridges Condominium Association – the property directly to the south of the proposed building – also spoke in favor of the postponement. He explained that as of last Friday at 5:00, his group was still in talks with the developers, and still awaiting renderings that would illustrate views from the Bridges building.


Wilson explained that, due to the way valid petitions were calculated, the Bridges would be unable to produce a valid petition. Even though they are the only residential units within 200 feet, the highest percentage they could get would be 14.1 percent.


Though both properties, the Bridges and the proposed PUD, were once owned by the same developer, the Bridges on the Park are privately owned. Wilson explained that his association filed suit against the developer to compel him to relinquish control of the homeowners association to the owners, which he subsequently did.


Drenner told the board that turning over the association was “very much a sore point,” and went on to say that it was, in his opinion, not necessary.


Though Wilson said that at this point the homeowners association was unsure whether or not they would oppose the project, Drenner seemed unconvinced.

“Just don’t hold me to having satisfied the HOA that we’ve been dealing with for 14 months. I’m not sure we can get there,” said Drenner, who said that they planned to go on meeting with the HOA despite believing they had addressed their issues previously.


The board voted 4-0 to postpone the case, with Board Members Tyler Zikert and Eric Schultz absent. Vice-Chair Robert Pilgrim was recused because his employer, Bury + Partners is involved with the project.

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