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Planning Commission split over upzoning for West Austin office

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Residents of a West Austin neighborhood want the Planning Commission to prevent a local business from changing the small office zoning on their residence to Mixed Use, which does not comply with the neighborhood plan.

 

The owners of the property at 2208 Lake Austin LLC were asking to change the zoning of the lot from Neighborhood Commercial to Neighborhood Mixed Use, terminate a public restrictive covenant on the site that restricted its use to professional office, and add Mixed Use to the zoning. Currently, 2208 Lake Austin Boulevard is a small house that is used as an office building.

 

Though the neighborhood was agreeable to the termination of the restrictive covenant, they objected to the change in zoning, which does not comply with their three-year-old neighborhood plan.

 

The Planning Commission voted unanimously to support the termination of the restrictive covenant, but they were split evenly about the zoning changes. Chairman Dave Anderson and Commissioners James Nortey, Steven Oliver and Richard Hatfield supported the zoning change. Commissioners Danette Chimenti, Brian Roark, Myron Smith and Jean Stevens voted against. Commissioner Alfonso Hernandez was absent.

 

“I have an issue with the fact that this is a relatively new (neighborhood) plan and… it’s being whittled away already,” said Stevens. “It bothers me that people purchased the property last year knowing the restrictions already in place… They knew the zoning of it, they knew of the issues, and yet we’re willing to make accommodations to allow them to build something that isn’t supposed to be built there.”

 

Alice Glasco spoke on behalf of the owners. She said that the change in use was necessary in order to create the live/work space the owners envisioned.

 

She explained that several trees – including a 41-inch Heritage Tree – prevented development of the site that would otherwise be allowed. The current zoning allows an accessory residential unit, but not one that is more than half of the use. Their plans exceed that limit, with 68 percent of the use slated for residential use.

 

Mark Fromberg also spoke on behalf of the current owners. He explained that they were not asking for additional height or area than would be allowed under the current zoning, saying, “This is really just about the opportunity to put two residences in addition to the office already on this site.”

 

Central West Austin Neighborhood Planning Contact Team member Diane Umstead spoke against the change in zoning, saying Mixed Use violates the objectives of the Neighborhood Plan, which aims to preserve and promote existing neighborhood-serving commercial districts.

 

Umstead said that the termination of the restrictive covenant would allow the owners to use the land as residential, and the neighborhood planning contact team supported that termination.

 

“(The owners) have acknowledged that a change in the future land use designation is not necessary to use the land for both residential and low-intensity office,” said Umstead. “It’s only desired because they want to build a residential unit that is larger than the one permitted by the city’s land development code.”

 

“In effect, the landowners are asking us for an amendment to the Central West Austin Neighborhood Plan for the sole purpose of allowing them to build a larger residence,” said Umstead.

 

Old West Austin Neighborhood Association’s Blake Tollet echoed those concerns. He said that one nearby lot zoned Mixed Use was done so in error, without understanding the full impact of what Mixed Use was. He worried that allowing this lot to become Mixed Use would set a precedent. Tollet told the commission that he was “pretty sure” he could get a valid petition from the neighborhood before the case goes to City Council.

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