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Environmental Board backs Oak Hill PUD with affordable housing

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Environmental Board gave the go-ahead for changes to a 2007 Planned Unit Development west of Oak Hill Wednesday night. The changes would allow Foundation Communities to build affordable multifamily units on the site, which was originally planned for office uses.


Though developers were asking for changes to the original agreement that amounted to additional environmental variances, board members reasoned that those exceptions were better than what could be developed otherwise. They voted 6-0 to approve some of those amendments, and asked that others be considered when a site plan comes through the process. Board Member Mary Ann Neely was absent.


“When we look at environmental superiority, we can’t just look at it like we are looking at a fresh PUD today,” said Board Member Robert Deegan. “We have to acknowledge that it could be developed under the current PUD.”


The Terrace at Oak Hill PUD is located at 8500 SH 71 West, which is about a mile and a half west of the Y in Oak Hill. Knepp Incorporated owns the undeveloped 8.9-acre lot.


Developers are now hoping to change from an office use to a limited-density multifamily use, which changes some of the requirements on the land. Staff supports the land use changes, which would allow a potential sale to Foundation Communities to take place.


Foundation Communities owns an adjacent property and is interested in expanding that affordable housing project to the Terrace at Oak Hill land.


John Guttman spoke on behalf of Foundation Communities, and explained that the project would allow them to provide 58 units to families who earn between 30 and 50 percent Average Median Income, concentrating on formerly-homeless families. He said that they need zoning approval in advance in order to receive funding from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.


Board Member Marisa Perales questioned whether the project had much environmental superiority, but reasoned that a potential sale to Foundation Communities should factor in to the board’s analysis. She said that, for her, it tipped the scales in favor of the amendments.


Knepp Incorporated was asking for five amendments to the PUD. Those amendments would realign the water quality zones on the property, which have shrunk since 2007. The amendments would also allow for cut and fill up to 8 feet, construction on slopes with up to a 35 percent grade, realign the downstream buffer and adjust a 50-foot critical environmental feature, or CEF, setback.


The Environmental Board recommended approval of the amendments, except for the CEF buffer amendment and the cut and fill amendment, on the grounds that those changes could be addressed during the site plan process.


Mike McDougal, who is an environmental reviewer with the city, explained that staff supported the amendments, provided the developer removed a clause from the original agreement that allows the PUD to be reviewed under the 2007 land development regulations. With that language removed, the project would be developed under current code.


Though the land isn’t technically grandfathered, removing that provision would mean that the development would be subject to the Heritage Tree Ordinance, the Commercial Landscape Ordinance and tree mitigation requirements, which have increased since 2007.


McDougal explained that it made sense to develop the land as if it were not in the Water Quality Transition Zone because the highway is between the land and the creek, and the property does not actually drain into the creek.


Environmental Officer Chuck Lesniak said that, on balance, they felt they were getting more environmental benefits under the new plan, despite the amendments.


Lesniak went on to explain that his office was seeing a lot of tracts that were originally slated for office construction switch over to multifamily, and remarked, “we’re seeing multifamily site plans come in like  I’ve never seen in my life… This is where the market is right now.”


The land is in the Barton Springs Zone, the Drinking Water Protection Zone, and the Edwards Aquifer Contributing Zone. There are two wetland CEFs that affect development on the lot: one is on the lot itself, and one is located adjacent to the property.


There are also heritage trees on the property. In the early 2000s, other heritage trees were illegally removed from the land, and the applicant paid about $70,000 in mitigation fees at that time.


Ted McConaghy of Doucet and Associates represented Knepp Incorporated. He explained that the trees had been removed because the owner did not understand the city’s code.


The new plan concerned Deegan, who noted that the way the current project was drawn, it looked as though three heritage trees would need to be removed.


McConaghy said that, while he understood the concerns about the environmental superiority of the project, the amendments were necessary because the original PUD would not have actually allowed the site to be developed, due to topography and other constraints of the site.


“I guess we just wanted to come forward and show our full hand and say, ‘Look, we think this is everything we need to get this project built, environment-wise,’ so we wouldn’t have to keep coming back and asking for additional environmental variances,” said McConaghy, who explained that he understood any future variances or changes to the plans were their responsibility.


“I think we can work around the trees to find a way of avoiding the heritage trees,” said McConaghy. “The construction on slopes and cut and fill.. It won’t work without including those as part of the PUD.”


Deegan said that, in his opinion, the site could probably be planned more carefully in order to avoid some of the requested amendments.

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