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ZAP grants extension of site plan to build 397-unit project

Tuesday, January 28, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

With only four members on the dais, the Zoning and Platting Commission granted a neighborhood appeal of an extension of a site plan review by default last week.


Commissioners voted 3-1 to deny the appeal, but because they need a minimum of 4 votes to take action, that vote amounted to an approval of the appeal. Chair Betty Baker voted in opposition, and Commissioners Rahm McDaniel, Gabriel Rojas and Cynthia Banks voted in favor. Commissioner Sean Compton recused and Commissioners Jason Meeker and Patricia Seeger were absent.


Graves Dougherty Hearon & Moody attorney Michael Whellan explained developers Alliance Realty Robinson Ranch would simply re-file, wasting time invested by city staff. Re-filing indicates that they are unlikely to renegotiate a proposed 397-unit multifamily project at 8100 Anderson Mill Road.


Ten nearby neighbors appealed the extension that staff approved in November. Originally, the application was due to expire on Dec. 12, 2013, but developers requested a 180-day extension to clear additional comments.


“I feel that very often, we are put in situations, when it comes to properties in the ETJ that we are looking at uses that maybe wouldn’t be uses that we would see within the city limits. And that’s in large part sometimes why they are in the ETJ,” said McDaniel. “But this is in the ETJ. This being an application extension, and something that staff does, it’s hard for me to find a reason right now to tell staff how to make sausage.”


Baker voted against the motion, saying she was concerned with the scarcity of information from the Transportation Department, and hoped more attention would be drawn to the transportation aspect of the project.


Planning and Development Review’s Brad Jackson explained that, because the property is in the extra-territorial jurisdiction and the city has no land-use authority over the development, this was the only appealable process in the review process


The property is subject to the North Austin Municipal Utility District #1 land use plan. That plan was amended in 2007 to change the property in question from general retail to mixed use multifamily.


Jackson explained that neighbors say they weren’t notified about the change.


“A lot of the outrage has been based on the expectation that it would be a commercial or a general retail. Some kind of development like that. Then it was changed to multifamily in 2007 and it kind of went under the radar,” said Jackson.


If the commission chose to grant the appeal, the applicant would be required to submit a new site plan. It would not change the land use that was approved in 2007.


Speaking on behalf of Atkins Engineering, Scott Smiley said that he needed the extra time to work out details of a regional detention plan that ultimately proved unsuccessful, necessitating a redesign of the project that included on-site detention.


He told the commission that he was reasonably certain that there would be no additional requests for extra time.


Neighbor Nicole Rivera told the commission that her family would be directly affected by the proposed development.


“We have some major concerns,” said Rivera. “We have a child. And many other homes have children that play along the fence line and utilize their backyards. Due to the height and location of these proposed dwellings, I find a three story apartment building towering over our homes unacceptable.”


Rivera said that she also had concerns about drainage plans and traffic. She said an additional entrance on Anderson Mill Road would make it “nearly impossible” to enter or exit their subdivision, and endanger children in the area.


Rivera explained that her zip code, 78729, had about 19 complexes, totaling about 5,899 apartment units, and there were about 30 apartment complexes within two miles of her subdivision. In Rivera’s opinion, it would be better to develop the site as single-family homes or townhomes.


Tiffany Asha said that she had a “high stakes” interest in the project, and explained that with one point of egress from her subdivision it could take three to five minutes to leave sometimes. Asha said that she had lived in the subdivision since 1999 and had no idea about the land use change.


Asha, who is a teacher at Deerpark Middle School, also worried about the safety of students walking to school, noting there had been student fatalities on Anderson Mill Road.


Rojas said that, unfortunately, the commission was not able to weigh in on the appropriateness of the project.


“That’s an unfortunate side-effect of living in the ETJ – less land-use control. Our code does not tie transportation capacity to moving new people into housing units, which we see the effect of every day,” said  Commissioner Rojas.

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