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Proposed Northwest Austin restaurant fails to get ZAP backing

Monday, January 13, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

An even split at the Zoning and Platting Commission wasn’t enough to get a recommendation for a proposed Northwest Austin restaurant Tuesday night.


Developer Twelve Lakes LLC hopes to build the Austin Oaks Restaurant at 7601 Wood Hollow Drive. In order to do that, they will need a variance in order to build less than 150 feet from the buffer of the nearby rim rock, which is a critical environmental feature.


Restraints on the lot, which include drainage easements and a critical water quality zone, leave only about 0.65 acres available for development.


Chair Betty Baker and Commissioners Patricia Seeger and Jason Meeker voted against the variance and Commissioners Gabriel Rojas, Sean Compton and Rahm McDaniel voted in its favor, making a 3-3 vote that was not enough to recommend it.


Commissioner Cynthia Banks was absent.


While normally rim rock requires a 150-foot buffer zone, developers were asking to build as close as 25-feet to the rim rock. They explained that the building would be below the rim rock and not cause any impact. Staff agreed with this assessment, but some commissioners were wary.


“I went along with a recent, very short CEF setback off of Spicewood Springs Road. And now I’m seeing what they are doing to that development, and I wish I would have voted differently,” said Seeger. “I will stop approving these types of variances, because I think we just need to stop it. We need to protect our environment.”


“I am going to start not granting variances for such a short distance, after what I saw is happening,” said Seeger.


Commissioners also expressed concern about proposed parking for the space, and worried that spillover would impact the neighborhood. Though agent James Schissler explained that they were intending to build a high-end restaurant with valet parking, Baker remained skeptical about the shared-parking agreement with a nearby office building.


“If I’m going to dress up and wear my Sunday best and high heels, I don’t want to be walking up a hill looking for a parking place,” said Baker. “The parking is obviously a problem.”


Schissler maintained that the market would respond to that problem, should it arise, with an increase in valets to work with customers.


Compton, who made a motion in favor of the variance, singled out developers’ promise to rid the lot of invasive species like Chinaberry trees as important.


“I can appreciate your motion, but I don’t understand it,” said Baker. “Because when I’m looking at this map, I’m wonder what else someone is going to come in and request. (They) might not be as sensitive or caring about the environment as this applicant.”


It remains to be seen whether developers will be able to complete their project without the variance, given the lot’s restrictions.


“I was surprised when I saw that this was a 4300 square-foot restaurant. I didn’t really ever know that you could fit anything on that lot, because of the huge wash going through and the cliffs,” said Seeger.

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