Wednesday, September 3, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Crestview rallies against office building

Crestview residents turned out in force at last week’s Planning Commission meeting to protest a proposed office building in their neighborhood.

Though developer David Kahn argued that the office project was an appropriate buffer between residential and commercial uses, neighbors disagreed. Sick of the rapid changes, increased traffic, and rising costs happening in their area, dozens spoke against the proposed development and asked Planning Commissioners to reject the change.

In an unusual turn of events, many of those who spoke against the building asked that Kahn change his plans and develop a multifamily project or duplexes instead of offices. They argued it would be a better fit and less disruptive to the area.

“One cannot simultaneously support the Crestview Neighborhood Plan, as approved by City Council, and support this zoning request,” said neighbor Chip Harris. “To allow an office complex here would be tantamount to spot zoning.”

Currently, the land at 2000 Justin Lane and 2009 Cullen Ave. is home to the Korean United Presbyterian Church. Its zoning is a mix of Single-Family (SF-3), Multifamily (MF-3) and Limited Office (LO) under the neighborhood plan.

Kahn is asking to have that changed to General Office-Mixed Use (GO-MU) zoning, which would allow him to move forward with his plans for an office building and parking garage.

The Planning Commission voted several times before coming to an agreement to recommend LO-MU zoning on the lot, with a limit of 2,000 vehicular trips per day. Commissioners voted 6-2 in favor of the change, with Commissioners Jean Stevens and Nuria Zaragoza voting in opposition and Chair Danette Chimenti absent.

“I personally still have my doubts about it, to tell the truth,” said Commissioner James Nortey. “But in a land where we don’t have form-based code and assurances to protect neighborhood plans, and where we don’t have a way to stop neighborhood creep but we still want to design and be intentional about innovative uses, I think that LO is the best option.”

In his presentation, Kahn showed pictures of previous projects he had completed in order to assure commissioners that his office building would be tasteful. He said the 58-year-old church was in need of an update.

“I would like to encourage other people to keep building stuff in our city and keep investing in our city, so that we aren’t just left with houses and buildings from the ’60s that keep getting older,” said Kahn.

Kahn went on to explain that, although he had developed duplexes in the past, the McMansion ordinance made it difficult to build duplexes on this particular tract. He said he has never developed multifamily projects and has no intention of doing so in this case. Though Kahn maintained that an office building would be a quiet, low-impact addition to the neighborhood, Crestview residents disagreed.

Crestview neighbor Nancy Harris explained that the current SF-3 and MF-3 tracts were zoned that way intentionally during the neighborhood planning process. She said the small, residential Cullen Street could not support commercial zoning and asked commissioners to leave the current zoning in place.

“It’s not a matter of how attractively it is built, or whether an award-winning architect designs it. It’s a matter of incompatible use, inappropriate scale to the surrounding area and safety issues,” said Harris. “It’s my belief that this development is more suited to being located along a major roadway — such as Burnet or Lamar — than inside the neighborhood, on streets that are not designed for this type of development.”

Kahn’s agent, Ron Thrower, said that although they were seeking GO zoning, they would be developing under LO standards for the most part. GO zoning was needed only for impervious cover and building coverage regulations, which are currently exceeded by the Korean church.


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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

Crestview: Crestview is a north central Austin neighborhood bounded by Wooten and West Anderson Lane to the north, Allandale and Burnet Road to the west, Brentwood and Justin Lane to the south and the Highland neighborhood and North Lamar Boulevard to the east.

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