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ZAP rejects neighborhood’s plea to keep new traffic off their street

Monday, June 9, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Zoning and Platting Commission heard a plea from a group of South Austin residents to keep traffic from a proposed development off their street, but the panel said no to their concerns.


Most of the neighbors who spoke at the commission meeting supported a South Austin development in the 7400 block of Cooper Lane. However, those who spoke in support of the development wanted a deal negotiated with developers to prohibit access to their street, Sir Gawain Drive, funneling all access to the nearby Cooper Lane.


That did not go over with commissioners, who voted 7-0 to recommend that City Council approve the zoning change from SF-2 to SF-6 with required access to Sir Gawain Lane.


“I don’t see anything here about Sir Gawain that is so different that would necessarily cause a huge problem. I think the people that are living in the new neighborhood, especially those who have kids, aren’t any more likely to speed down the street with children walking down the sidewalk than anyone else,” said Commissioner Rahm McDaniel.


Those neighbors who spoke against the connection to Sir Gawain explained that their street was already busy and that, while Cooper Lane had the potential to be improved, their smaller street did not.


Robert Madden worried that connecting Sir Gawain would increase traffic on his block by “400 percent.”


“I believe that would be devastating to our particular block,” said Madden. “I understand the city staff’s desire for connectivity, but in this case I feel it is completely inappropriate. Adjacent neighborhoods can still function as communities without automobile-centric street connections.”


Linda Harvey also spoke in favor of barring access to Sir Gawain. She said that when she first bought her house, she looked forward to an extension of the street, but that excitement has faded over the years.


“Given the fact that it has been 35 years that we have lived there, and that it has not happened, time has given us a sense of security that it would not happen. Now, after 35 years, it’s kind of being thrown in our face that that’s a possibility,” said Harvey. “It’s quite frankly disturbing to our sense of neighborhood.”


Neighbors who lived on the Cooper Street side of the development asked for access to both streets. They said, and their Sir Gawain neighbors agreed, that Cooper Lane was in dire need of an upgrade. Neighbors on both sides of the issue said the street was dangerous, and worried it would only become more so if improvements were not made soon.


Kate Driskell, told the commission that she wanted to keep the suburban character of Cooper Lane, which she called a “countrified road.” She asked that the SF-2 zoning remain in place.


Though neighbors on Sir Gawain Lane said they would support pedestrian and bike access, as well as allowing an emergency crash gate to their street, Chair Betty Baker said that was “defeating what we are trying to do,” in that it worked against the “compact and connected” tenets of Imagine Austin.


In the end, commissioners opted not only to connect to Sir Gawain Lane, but also stipulated that developers build a street that could connect to an adjoining property to the south if it is ever developed. The zoning change will allow Milestone Community Builders to construct up to 65 stand-alone condominiums on the 9.87-acre lot. As a condition of their recommendation, commissioners also asked that developers help widen Cooper Lane and create a 25-foot vegetative buffer.


The zoning case heads to City Council June 26.

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