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Planning Commission denies MF-2 zoning for West Austin tract

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

A controversial development plan on Exposition Boulevard is back at City Hall.


Austin Elm Terrace, LP was asking for Multifamily (MF-2) zoning on the 3215 Exposition Boulevard lot, which is just over two acres. The tract was formerly part of the Austin State School, and the majority of the land is currently unzoned.


The Planning Commission voted 6-2 to approve a staff-recommended single-family (SF-6) zoning with Chairman Dave Anderson and Commissioner Stephen Oliver voting in opposition. Commissioner Myron Smith was absent. The commission offered some clarifying language to that recommendation that explicitly prohibited building within a 75-foot setback, which includes a 25-foot vegetative buffer.


“I’ve worked on this for, it seems, every day of my life for three years,” said neighbor Dealey Herndon, who explained the neighborhood wasn’t necessarily against the project, but did oppose MF-2 zoning. “We’re ready on all sides to finally get a resolution on it. We did compromise.”


That compromise takes the form of staff’s recommendation, which was hammered out with the neighborhood over the past few years. The neighborhood’s plan has the tract acting as a transition to higher density through SF-6 zoning.


The recommendation from the Planning Commission also limits construction to a maximum of 20 dwelling units, with a maximum height of 32 feet. Developers would like to build up to 34 units at a maximum height of 40 feet for a project that will serve residents 55 and older.


Two of those units will be affordable to residents making 80 percent of the Median Family Income.


Husch Blackwell, LLP attorney Jerry Harris explained that in 2007, an application for MF-1 was ultimately withdrawn. In 2010, during another zoning case City Council ultimately decided to leave the land unzoned.


West Austin Neighborhood Group President Cathy Kyle told the commission that there was “overwhelming” opposition to the development, and that there is a petition against it with over 700 signatures against the plan. Kyle explained that changes to what is proposed for the land have left the neighborhood with little confidence about what the end product will actually be.


“To me, it’s personally very troubling for anyone to talk about this development as affordable,” said Kyle. “Units are priced at $450,000 for a single bedroom to $1.5 million for a three-bedroom. There’s plenty of housing in Tarrytown and West Austin in that price range or less.”


Kyle also expressed concern about the proposed 40-foot height that she feared could “establish the tenor of development along Exposition.”


“I am persuaded by what the neighborhood has done… SF-6 is an appropriate buffer,” said Commissioner Brian Roark. “I think from a zoning perspective, on this particular site, I’m less persuaded by all the designs of what they are doing than thinking about what the appropriate zoning is.”


Commissioner Danette Chimenti agreed.


“Given that you’ve got all the land surrounding this that is going to someday be developed. Given that you’ve got the Brackenridge tract, and the golf course, this neighborhood is going to absorb a tremendous amount of density,” said Chimenti. “(This tract) is the transition area moving into what could be multifamily, or commercial.”

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