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ZAP backs Steiner Ranch project variance over staff objections

Friday, April 19, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Going against the advice of staff, the Zoning and Platting Commission narrowly recommended a cut and fill variance request for a Steiner Ranch project Tuesday night.


The commission voted 4-3 to recommend the approval of the variances for a 55-unit townhome project. Chair Betty Baker and Commissioners Cynthia Banks, Sean Compton and Patricia Seeger voted in favor of the variances, while Commissioners Jason Meeker, Gabriel Rojas and Rahm McDaniel voted against.


“I believe, in terms of cut and fill, the worst foot is the first foot,” said Compton. “Whether it’s sixteen or six feet of fill is less important than the extent of the cut and fill, and that’s why I support this.”


If granted, the variances would clear the way for Taylor Morrison Homes to construct the townhome project on one of the few developable tracts of land left in Steiner Ranch. Developers are asking for two variances to complete the project that would allow cut and fill up to 12 feet on the 24.4 acre piece of land at 4200 Steiner Ranch Boulevard in far northwest Austin.


Staff does not support the variances, saying the reason they are necessary is due to the method of development. Sarah Crocker, who is representing the developers, disagrees. Crocker says that the need for cut and fill variances in the development is routine, given the terrain.


Crocker dug into the history of Steiner Ranch for her presentation, pointing to earlier projects that required as much as 28 feet of fill, and producing a map that showed an abundance of variances granted regardless of the existing Steiner Ranch Agreement. That agreement allows development with cut and fill up to eight feet.


She explained that she was one of the people who helped craft the agreement, and the decision to include cut and fill that was eight feet or less was a compromise.


“There was nothing in the agreement that says if you get eight feet you can’t ask for anything else,” said Crocker.


“It is a series of ridges… There was virtually no way to get it done without variances,” said Crocker. “It’s always been hard… If you choose to build in the Hill Country, is that a method of development?”


Crocker explained that while a lot of things had changed during the design process, her client was only willing to do so much, pointing out that the density of the project – about 2.2 units per acre – was not excessive. Developers instead compromised by downsizing seven units that would have otherwise required even more cut and fill. Crocker explained that, at this point, they had revised the site plan at least six or seven times since October.


“That 12 foot threshold was something we really strove to get. It took some time, but we got it done,” said Crocker.


Earlier this month, the Environmental Board heard the case, but did not make any recommendations, with a vote against the variances failing 3-1 with three members absent.

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