ZAP rejects variance and zoning request for Del Valle development
Monday, April 21, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano
Acknowledging staff concerns that a plan for a Del Valle development conflicted with one of the basic principles of Imagine Austin, the Zoning and Platting Commission rejected a variance and subdivision request Tuesday night.
But Cuatro Consultants Engineer Hugo Elizondo said, “The neighborhood is very interested in this project. There is a real need for retail development out there, and it’s been slow to come,” he added, explaining that the variance would do just that, and bring in “much needed” retail use to the area.
Cuatro Consultants, Ltd. was asking for a variance for street alignment and connectivity for their project at 5501½ Ross Road. The retail project also requires subdividing the 16.54-acre lot into four parcels.
Commissioners Jason Meeker and Cynthia Banks voted in favor of the variance and subdivision, but Commissioners Patricia Seeger, Gabriel Rojas and Sean Compton voted in opposition.
Chair Betty Baker and Commissioner Rahm McDaniel were absent.
City staff did not support the variance, which they said fails to support the Imagine Austin concept of promoting a compact and connected city. A memo from Sangeeta Jain in Transportation Review in the Planning and Development Review Department explains further that there are no topographical or environmental constraints that would prevent the extension of Spiers Way, and that extension would allow better dispersal of traffic in the area.
Rojas said it was hard to recommend a variance that worked against connectivity, which stands in opposition to the tenets of the city’s comprehensive plan.
However, the nearby Berdoll Farms Home Owners’ Association supported the variance, as long as Spiers Way was accessible by pedestrians, bikes and emergency vehicles.
“We need some infrastructure out in Del Valle. We have nothing,” said Berdoll Farms HOA Vice President Patricia King. “Any little bit of infrastructure we can get, we appreciate… We don’t need another street all the way through in Berdoll. We have enough access as it is. We have somewhat of a problem with gangs, robberies and break-ins. So we try to keep the access into Berdoll as limited as possible.”
King explained that because of these safety concerns, they preferred limiting the sidewalk to pedestrians.
“I’m a big believer of eyes on the street,” said Compton. “And I believe that having connectivity provides for that. It’s actually the areas that don’t have both pedestrian and vehicular traffic that I believe contribute toward more safety issues.”
Elizondo explained that extending the street would cost more, due to the city’s requirement to extend the accompanying utilities, construct sidewalks and other requirements. The city does not require those things for an internal driveway, which Cuatro Consultants proposes to build.
“Without this variance request, the cost of the infrastructure of extending this local street is not possible,” said Elizondo.
Hayden Walker, who is a member of the Pedestrians Advisory Council, spoke against the variance. That group voted unanimously against the variance,
Architect Girard Kinney was also at the Pedestrians Advisory Council meeting, and explained why he was against the variance, saying and “I think the key is to think about this over a long period of time. What we’ve seen is that Austin is becoming more and more dense. And when you have developments like this, across from schools and near neighborhoods, those neighborhoods are going to become more dense over time… as time goes on, you will really want that street to have gone through.”
“I would urge you not to cut off those options permanently,” said Kinney, who explained that even if commissioners decided a full street wasn’t needed now, it would be prudent to construct the development in a way that one could be built later.
“We asked ourselves, at the end of the day, how many people are really impacted if we connect this? If you look at where it connects on Ross Road, the service drive to a school is not a destination point. It’s not a place a lot of people are going to be going,” said Elizondo.
Elizondo explained that foot and bike traffic would be facilitated through construction of a sidewalk to the subdivision instead. He explained that the sidewalk would include trees, lighting, striping for a bike path, and would be compliant with city code.
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