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Planning Commission nixes plans for Montopolis condo project

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Montopolis Neighborhood residents’ fears of gentrification were convincing enough to sway the Planning Commission from endorsing a condominium project last week.


Kemp Street Properties LLC was seeking the change from SF-3 zoning to SF-6 zoning on 5.38 acres at 600 Kemp Street in the Montopolis neighborhood. The change would allow construction of 45 condominiums.


The change was opposed by the Montopolis Neighborhood Contact Team and the Montopolis Neighborhood Association. Both groups spoke against it at Tuesday’s Planning Commission meeting. Neighbors also have a valid petition against the change which stood at 30.78 percent at the time of the meeting.


The Planning Commission voted 5-0-1 to oppose the change, with Commissioner Richard Hatfield abstaining and Commissioners Jean Stevens, Brian Roark and Stephen Oliver absent. The case was later postponed at City Council until its March 6 meeting.


“I think we do have to be really cognizant of economic issues and affordable housing. And I think this project would result in housing that is more expensive than what the folks in the neighborhood can afford,” said Commissioner Danette Chimenti, just prior to voting against the zoning change.


Commissioner James Nortey said that he was torn, and that the project was “cursed by being 10 years to early.”


“On paper this is a very good project that would be an excellent addition to this neighborhood,” said Nortey. “It’s the economic factors that prevent me from fully endorsing this project.”


Ron Thrower represented Kemp Street Properties, and explained that if the zoning change was not granted, an alternate plan for duplexes on the land would move forward. He estimated that the proposed condominiums would cost about $220,000.


“The opportunity here for this to become a single-family subdivision is not going to happen,” Thrower said. “This is either going to be a duplex subdivision or it’s going to be a quality condominium development. And it’s my client’s desire to make a quality condominium development. From the people that I’ve heard from in the area that do like this project, they feel like the area is quite saturated with affordable housing.”


Montopolis Planning Contact Team president Susana Almanza told the commission that she was concerned that the project could raise property taxes in the area, and force out older Montopolis owners. She said that the proposed condominiums were priced much higher than the surrounding area.


“This is a very poor community. If you know Montopolis, it has about 30-35 percent unemployment and the majority of the people live at an MFI (Median Family Income) of 0-30 percent… This would be a major impact on all of Montopolis,” said Almanza. “We have got to stop this policy where we are now displacing more low-income people of color. This major project is just the beginning of gentrification.”


“People who are more affluent come in and they like their property values to come up because they are always jumping to the next, higher level. Their whole thing is an investment of a property. This is an investment of a community,” said Almanza. “They aren’t at it to make a buck. They’re at it to leave something to their family.”


Thrower said they believed the project provided housing diversity in the area, and met the tenets of the Imagine Austin Plan. He guessed that the project would consist of about 70 percent owner-occupants, as opposed to a duplex project that would appeal more to renters.


This didn’t bother Anjelica Noyola, who is the president of the Montopolis-Ponca Neighborhood Association.


“There’s nothing wrong with a duplex. There’s nothing wrong with a single-family home. There’s nothing wrong with renters… 72 percent of the city of Austin are renters. They need a place to live. They need a place that’s affordable. $220,000 is not affordable to anyone in the neighborhood. It’s not affordable to a lot of people in the city of Austin,” said Noyola.

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