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Panel backs plan for improvement to ACC Rio Grande Campus

Tuesday, April 2, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Planning Commission unanimously agreed to support a rezoning request by the Rio Grande campus of Austin Community College last week, though the request strays slightly from the Downtown Austin Plan.


ACC had four rezoning requests, all for buildings on their Rio Grande Campus. ACC Director of Facilities and Construction William Mullane explained that the zoning will allow the college to accommodate a growing student body and update some of the older buildings.


“After 40 years, we are still trying to play catch up to provide the amount of space we need to support the number of students as they enroll. Our facilities, across the board, still remain crowded,” said Mullane.


Though the Planning Commission unanimously supported the request, Commissioner Danette Chimenti said she was “torn” about the rezoning, and supported it only because the school had worked with the neighborhood in order to reach an agreement.


“I like the project; it seems like a good project. I like the fact that they worked with the neighborhood. I have big concerns because it doesn’t comply with the Downtown Austin Plan, and I know a lot of people worked really hard on the Downtown Austin Plan,” said Chimenti. “We invested a lot of peoples’ time . .  money, etcetera, coming up with this plan…In general, I would not support something that doesn’t agree with a plan that so many of our citizens worked so hard on.”


Chimenti explained that she had issues with doing away with the special compatibility buffers that were put in place by the plan.


In order to finance the changes, the school will hold a bond election, something the ACC Board of Trustees has said they would like to do this upcoming November. Mullane explained that in order to establish firm budgets for voters, the school needs to first confirm what they could build. To do that, the zoning must be in place, particularly because the main tract is currently unzoned, prohibiting any development.


“We don’t know the parameters, we can’t get any renovation project approvals from the city, and we need to know what we can do on that site,” said Mullane. “Some of the other sites have some other restrictions that we are trying to clear up, and we like to do them all at the same time.”


If they are approved by City Council, all of the tracts will be zoned Downtown Mixed Use with Conditional Overlays that limit the land use.


One tract is additionally zoned historic, and its rezoning was recommended by the Historic Landmark Commission the previous night. They were reassured that the historic buildings on the campus will remain intact.


Original Austin Neighborhood Association President Ted Siff spoke in support of the changes, and explained the plan had been proposed about four years ago, giving the neighborhood plenty of time to review the plans. Siff served as chair of the school’s Citizens Advisory Committee, noting their support of the plan as well.


City staff also supports the rezonings.


“We’re trying to balance the technical, financial and political parameters that we have to work with to move these plans forward,” said Mullane, who explained the school will be working with a bond advisory cmmittee to establish plans for the campus. Mullane said he would recommend the first phase of the project be to renovate and restore the main building.

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