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Austin Oaks PUD draws concerns from residents, Council members

Friday, July 11, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though still in its early stages, a new Planned Unit Development in northwest Austin is already furrowing brows.

The Austin Oaks Planned Unit Development would be built on 31.37 acres at the southwest corner of Spicewood Springs Road and MoPac Expressway. The plan is still a concept, but may include 610 town home and multifamily units, 850,000 square feet of office space and 100,000 square feet of retail space.

The group behind the PUD’s development, Twelve Lakes, LLC, is represented by the Drenner Group.

In order to build its project, Twelve Lakes is asking for a maximum height of 225 feet along some areas of MoPac. This has already started to worry neighbors, as has the potential for increased traffic.

Council Member Laura Morrison questioned city Planning and Development Review’s Jerry Rusthoven about the proposed height, and whether the increase was something he was comfortable with. Rusthoven said that, at this time, he was not.

“I am not, at this point, ready to recommend that amount of height at all,” said Rusthoven. “I think we need to sit down and have a discussion about what the superiority items are, what the benefit is to the city, as well as the rationale for the request. Then we’ll be coming back with a staff recommendation on the actual PUD.”

“For me, it’s also a bigger picture,” said Morrison. “There’s a lot of scenarios like this along MoPac, that might be neighborhood centers and near transit. I feel like it’s a big question about what we think is going to belong in those kinds of areas… I think we could do a much better job if we were thinking more globally.”

“It’s a big deal,” said Morrison. “(Maybe) there is some reason that we can think about doing some major height along MoPac, but I do think that we need to think about this in context.”

The project is planning to meet all of the PUD Ordinance’s Tier I requirements, and will participate in the affordable housing portion of the ordinance. The project will also meet or exceed open space requirements, build to comply with a three-star level of the city’s green building program, exceed landscaping requirements, provide Art in Public Places program-approved art. Developers propose that 2.5 percent of the units will be available to people with disabilities.

The development will include water quality controls not currently in place and will be limited to 65 percent impervious cover.

Morrison also expressed concern with the role that base zoning took in the presentation. Council Member Kathie Tovo echoed that concern, noting that it was her understanding that PUDs were to be built on their existing zoning and would not get a separate upzoning of their base zoning, as is proposed in this case. Currently, the land is zoned Limited Office (LO) and Neighborhood Commercial (LR) and Community Commercial (GR) zoning. Staff is proposing a base zoning of GR, which is the most intense zoning of the three.

Rusthoven said he would look at the PUD Ordinance again, to ensure that his understanding was accurate. City Council approved revisions to the ordinance late last year.

Unlike other PUD projects, if approved, developers plan to redevelop existing two-story office buildings on the lot that were built in the 1970s and 1980s. The project would use already-existing street networks.

City Council did not vote on the zoning change, or any part of approving the PUD, but heard a development assessment presentation that is part of the city’s review process. Council will vote on the zoning change later in the process.

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