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ZAP postpones case for salvage business in hopes of a better plan

Tuesday, July 1, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

After nearly a decade worth of talks with the city about its fate, an environmentally complicated piece of Northwest Austin land had its turn at the Zoning and Platting Commission last month but came away with a postponement.


The city annexed the five-acre property, where Ace Auto Glass operates at 6308 Spicewood Springs Road, in December 2013. Owner Roy Cavanaugh was asking for a zoning change from Interim Rural Residential to Commercial Mixed Use and Community Recreation, in order to have recreational vehicle and boat storage on the land. Staff recommended a lighter zoning – SF-6 – due to the proximity to residences and the environmental sensitivity of the land, which borders Bull Creek.


According to the city, its use as a salvage business must stop in 10 years. Cavanaugh does have a permit that will allow convenience storage and a kennel, even though the land is in the Drinking Water Protection Zone.


Mike Wilson spoke on behalf of the applicant, and told the commissioners that he believed the site had operated as a salvage yard since 1952. Cavanaugh purchased the property in 1984. Wilson explained that they are currently talking to the city about transferable development rights, or TDRs, for the current salvage use. That deal could dedicate the portion of the property in the critical water quality zone to transferable development rights. Wilson said that they hoped to complete that deal in “the next couple of months,” which he said would make the CR zoning request unnecessary. It would also allow Cavanaugh to clean up the site, remove the salvage yard and establish a conservation easement.

However, the Commercial Mixed Use zoning would allow the current glass, auto sale, auto repair, convenient storage and dog kennel uses.


Commissioners expressed concern that the owner was exploring both avenues simultaneously, and voted unanimously to postpone the case.


“It does appear that you are working both sides of this issue, where you are working with Council on some rights and then coming for zoning,” said Commissioner Patricia Seeger. “I’m just a little frustrated about the TDRs and everything else that is going on while we are evaluating rezoning.”


Seeger also said that she found the zoning request too aggressive for the property, noting that she had significant environmental concerns about the requests, and significant issues with the condition of the road.


Wilson explained that TDR negotiations had been going on since 2005, and they had made the zoning request because rezoning is free in the first year following annexation by the city.


Commissioner Rahm McDaniel told Cavanaugh that he had put himself through college by fixing up old cars, and had purchased parts from his salvage yard during that time.


“In many ways, used auto parts made it possible for me to finish college. And to the extent that your business played a part in that, I appreciate it,” said McDaniel, who went on to explain that he was uncomfortable with the zoning request, and would support a postponement so that an alternate solution could be found.


“I’m 67, and I’ve been working at that junkyard almost every day for 30 years to help my family, my brother and sisters, and my friends,” said Cavanaugh. “But I’ve been listening to my social conscience, while also listening to my responsibility to my family. I’ve struggled with how to unwind this problem. I have a business that around me has evolved an environmental awareness. I’m trying to figure this out, but I’m constantly being constrained by the government and everything, and by my own ignorance. How do you know about all of this code?”


Cavanaugh said that he had ultimately settled on transferable development rights as that solution, along with a change in zoning that could allow them to operate some of his businesses until he could transition out of their operation.


The Lone Star Sierra Club’s Roy Waley spoke in support of the postponement, which would allow the time to make the “best environmental decision” possible and hoped that a solution could be found which would be beneficial to both the environment and the Cavanaugh family.

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