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Tired of waiting, ZAP approves subdivision with stakeholders absent

Monday, September 9, 2013 by Elizabeth Pagano

Weary of continued postponements, the Zoning and Platting Commission approved a north central Austin subdivision last week, despite the absence of the developer and neighborhood representatives at the meeting.

The commission voted in favor of the subdivision at 5409 Shoalwood Avenue, which is located in Shoalmont Addition, in a vote of 6-1 with Commissioner Jason Meeker voting in opposition. The subdivision will divide the half-acre lot in two.

Chair Betty Baker pointed out that the case had been postponed five times previously, and it was a matter in which the commission had no discretion.

“It reminds me of something my grandfather used to say. It’s like cutting the puppy dog’s tail off a little bit at a time, rather than just one big whack,” said Baker.

Though the commission doesn’t have discretion in terms of approving legal subdivisions, deed restrictions in the neighborhood require two-thirds of the neighborhood to approve the subdivision. That restriction is private, and the commission was advised by city legal staff not to enforce it. However, a cooperative developer and a savvy neighborhood offered to work together to meet the restrictions to eliminate the conflict and thwart future legal action. (See In Fact Daily, June 14)

The Zoning and Platting Commission postponed the case in order to allow them time to gather the necessary signatures.

“I know this is being postponed in an effort to get the petitioners to agree to amend the deed restrictions… five months is a long time to allow someone to secure a petition,” said Baker.

Commissioner Patricia Seeger said that she agreed, and that she was concerned about the lack of interest on both sides – neither of whom was present at the meeting.

“This is one of our challenges dealing with deed restrictions… This outcome will be the same whether we keep postponing it or not. The neighborhood cannot win on the deed restriction issue and the developer will ultimately either win by default or win by meeting the deed restrictions,” said Seeger. “I say lets go ahead and just approve the case.”

Meeker pointed out that the neighborhood and developer were cooperating by both seeking the signatures required to meet the deed restriction requirements, but was concerned that they were not keeping commissioners apprised about their progress. He added the postponements were not solely based on gathering the requisite signatures, but also scheduling problems and other complications.

Meeker pushed for one more postponement, and a clear statement that the decision would be made at the next meeting rather than “giving a blank check of postponements.”

Meeker said that, at this point, without input from the applicant or developer (who were not present at the meeting) he couldn’t make an informed decision without knowing where things currently stood.

Though the developer had requested a postponement until October 1, Baker said that “she wasn’t feeling that generous” and said she would prefer a postponement until their next meeting.

Ultimately, the commission decided against any postponement.

Commissioner Rahm McDaniel said he couldn’t support another postponement.

“We’ve done our level-best to encourage a meeting of the minds between the neighborhood and the developer, and I just don’t see why we are postponing this any more. There’s no decision to make. There’s no consideration that can change what we have to do given the fact that we have no legal discretion to act here,” said McDaniel.

McDaniel said that they had encouraged the gathering of signatures with good reason, but the commission and the city were ultimately not a party to those deed restrictions.

Baker said she had every sympathy for the applicant and the neighborhood.

“I understand them, I sympathize with them. I also understand our frustrations and we extend our sympathy. But I am reluctant to continue postponing this, postponement after postponement,” said Baker.

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