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Planning Commission backs Cirrus Logic plans for downtown expansion

Thursday, April 18, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Despite other battles company officials might be facing concerning plans for their downtown  campus, Cirrus Logic found support at the Planning Commission last week.


The commission voted in favor of a zoning request for some of the company’s downtown holdings, which are located at 800 West Sixth Street and 602-702 West Avenue.


Currently, the lot is home to a six-story office building and parking garage. With construction of their office building nearby complete, Cirrus Logic is ready to expand the 90-foot building onto the other tract that they own, at the same height. In order to do this, they need additional height allowances. The company is also seeking to remove a daily 2,000 vehicle trip limit that is currently on the land, which will allow them to use some space for public uses such as restaurants.


Commissioner Stephan Oliver addressed the fact that the change would not be in line with the Downtown Austin Plan, which recommends a height of 60 feet on one of the tracts.


“The Downtown Plan is trying to make places better. I look at a building plan here that makes this particular design, in my opinion, better,” said Oliver.


The Planning Commission voted to support the change 5-2, with Commissioners Danette Chimenti and Myron Smith voting in opposition. Commissioner Jean Stevens was absent and Commissioner Brian Roark recused himself because he owns stock in Cirrus Logic.


Armbrust & Brown Attorney Richard Suttle explained that while the original plan was to gradually expand the campus, the company is already short on space in the new building and are looking to expand their building sooner than expected. Suttle called the company “pioneers” noting that they had moved to downtown from the suburbs without incentives.


Suttle said that they have tried to work with the neighborhood, which was once in favor of the plan, though not the parking.


“They just didn’t want any parking in the structure, and that’s just not one that we can agree to,” said Suttle. “Unfortunately, Cirrus Logic has a parking issue today. They shuttle people in from various locations from around the city…The fact of it is that they are short on parking.”


“We’ve had lots of conversations on what else they’ve bought, what else they may own, and what other plans they may have, but that is in no way related to this tonight. This is about whether you think that going up from 60 feet to 90 feet is appropriate,” said Suttle.


Original Austin Neighborhood Association President Ted Siff spoke against the request, saying it would have a significant impact on his neighborhood. Siff did allow that Cirrus Logic had been a great neighbor in many respects.


“However, the applicant’s position in this zoning case has not budged since it was presented to us in September of last year,” said Siff, who said that the company hadn’t had any substantive conversation with the neighborhood since March 21, when the discussions were determined to be “at an impasse” by the developers.


Siff said the neighborhood association and developer were closer to agreement when the plan was first presented as an office building. At that time, a letter that conditionally supported the project was drafted, and the neighborhood was informed that the plans had changed. Cirrus Logic now wanted to build a parking garage. He said that the neighborhood had consistently opposed a parking garage at the current proposed location, but would not oppose a garage at one of the other three nearby properties that the company also owns.


Neighbor Karen Armstrong, who lives in the building across the street from the parking lot, also opposed the plan. She told the commission that she had been duped by the original plan, and information about changes had been withheld.


“All the things that we were promised that we didn’t ever speak of until now have all been taken away,” said Armstrong, who listed gym memberships and extra parking as amenities that were no longer being offered.


Several other neighbors were on hand to speak against the plan, worrying that the parking would make Shoal Creek less safe, block sunlight to adjacent residences, and create soot.


Chimenti said that she had a problem with an increase in height so close to homes. Because the homes in question are townhomes, they do not trigger compatibility standards, which Chimenti found disturbing.


“I do have concerns with the folks who are trying to live next to this building. 90 feet is an awful tall building when you are 25 feet from it,” said Chimenti. 


Commissioner Alfonso Hernandez disagreed, saying the height wasn’t a major factor for him.


“If you live there, and they build a 60-foot parking garage, it’s going to be just as horrible as building a 90-foot building, frankly. In my opinion, I’d rather see a better product on the ground there, as opposed to just a parking garage,” said Hernandez.


“The other bigger concept for me is that it is downtown living,” said Hernandez. “Those are some of the hazards of living downtown. I think that if you live downtown I would think you would grow to appreciate some of the urban living that it is, and take it for what it’s worth.”

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