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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Two city boards reject plans for South Lamar PUD proposal
Wednesday, April 17, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano
A proposed South Austin Planned Unit Development encountered more trouble at the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board last week.
Developers Post Paggi are seeking PUD zoning for their 211 South Lamar lot, currently the site of a Taco Cabana and the Paggi House restaurant. The zoning change would allow them to build to 96 feet instead of the current 60-foot limit.
Unsurprisingly, the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board joined the Environmental Board in opposing the project, voting 4-1 against the zoning change, with Board Member Eric Schultz voting in favor of the rezoning, Board Member Tyler Zikert abstaining from the vote, and Vice Chair Robert Pilgrim recused.
In return for the PUD zoning, developers will offer 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.
Attorney Steve Drenner, who is representing the developers, made it clear that without the change in zoning, many of the community benefits would be scrapped. Instead, they will move forward with plans to build a u-shaped residential structure whose units face the lake. The current design includes a u that faces away from the lake, to accommodate the Bridges at the Park Condominiums, but that would not be economical without the added height, explained Drenner.
“That is what we will build if this project and this case does not receive support. It will be a 60-foot apartment complex in that shape,” said Drenner. “It wouldn’t be an ugly building or a poor design or anything, but it would not have retail on the ground floor because the numbers just wouldn’t warrant it.”
Drenner told In Fact Daily that they would definitely be continue to seek the zoning change, which is scheduled to go before the Planning Commission next.
Numerous groups have declared their opposition to the plan, including the Zilker and Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Associations, Save Town Lake, the Bridges on the Park Condominium Association and, most recently, the Zach Scott Theater’s Board of Trustees Executive Committee.
Jeanette Averbach, who came to the board with a clay model of the project that she appeared to have made herself, also spoke against the rezoning. Averbach explained that when she purchased a condominium at the adjacent Bridges on the Park, she and other homeowners were told that 211 South Lamar would eventually be home to a 60-foot sister residential project.
“People were so concerned that they talked to city hall about the zoning, and they were assured that it was 60 feet,” said Averbach. “So people bought with some confidence, and they bought in a big way.”
Board Member Dean Rindy said that he agreed with others that questioned the superiority of the project, and didn’t think the project warranted the “highly unusual PUD designation,” even though other PUDs that were smaller than the traditional 10 acre requirement had been approved by the city in recent history.
“The fact that we’ve made four or five previous mistakes doesn’t justify another one,” said Rindy. “Probably the most important value embodied in the Waterfront Overlay is height restrictions close to the lake.”
Board Member Roy Mann expressed concern about the shape of the building, and how it would interact with the waterfront in conjunction with other buildings, such as the planned downtown library. He expressed concern that Austin was losing the “valley” effect around the lake that the city had been trying to create since the 80s. Instead, buildings that leaned in towards the waterfront created what he termed a “kind of caving-in approach.”
“It is all about profit for one developer. It has nothing to do with anybody else in this city,” said Chair Brooke Bailey.
“We got zero letters of support, except for Downtown Austin Alliance, which this project isn’t even in. The only people supporting this are the developers, so I have a problem with that. Not one person in the neighborhood, or the adjoining project is supporting this,” said Bailey. “And I still can’t get past what I am going to see, for the rest of my life, running around that trail.”