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Highland area development still seeking signs

Monday, September 22, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

A second visit to the Board of Adjustment was not enough for a North Central Austin development that hopes a network of signs will help increase its visibility.

Since the last visit, developers of the Linc on Middle Fiskville Road had modified their request. They returned asking for seven signs, not 10. They also reduced the size of the largest sign from 600 square feet to 480 square feet, and the height of the sign to 71 feet tall, placing just over 26 feet above the elevated freeway. They also eliminated a request for an additional eight freestanding signs.

The Linc development is one of a handful bordered by Middle Fiskville Road, I-35 and FM 2222. Though board members said they understood the need for more visibility, they held off on endorsing the 10 requested sign variances, and voted to postpone the case for a second time. At the board’s previous meeting, members worried about the number, size and proposed illumination for the signs. (See Austin Monitor, Aug. 26) They also asked for a clearer picture of the requested variances.

Though developers came equipped with a revised, color-coded map that showed the variances this time, Board Member Michael Von Ohlen noted that the diagram said it was “for illustrative purposes only.” He said that was not how it worked.

“If this was to pass, they will go where they are on this diagram,” said Von Ohlen. “That’s the way we operate.”

Chair Jeff Jack agreed.

“This is very problematic … You could put it anywhere if we grant you the variance,” said Jack. “It’s a problem that it’s not spelled out specifically.”

Von Ohlen said he was fine with all the signage on the property itself and understood that the area was confusing. However, he had issues with the proposed 71-foot sign, saying he was not comfortable with the size and height, and was not sure it was needed.

Dyal and Partners design director Roy Watson said the sign was “very considered” and a critical part of establishing visibility. He assured board members that the sign would be “swallowed” by I-35 and surrounding roads. He said it would not be too different from existing highway signs, if erected.

“We are trying to create an element to help establish this as a place, and a gateway to what’s going on with other parts of this neighborhood. It’s our fear that without this kind of visibility, and without this kind of statement, it’s just going to be forgotten,” said Watson.

Board Member Melissa Hawthorne encouraged developers to get more creative with their signage. She said she believed they could do better than a big sign on a large stick.

The Highland Neighborhood Association voted unanimously to support the signs, and Charlotte Garza, who is a resident of the neighborhood, spoke in favor of the variances.

“We are a neighborhood that is hungry for successful amenities and for good amenities,” said Garza. “We are hungry for successful dining and entertainment, and we feel like signage and visibility is really essential for this. Numerous businesses and restaurants have failed before we even knew they were there, just because the location of this property is very interesting.”

Garza pointed out that the signs were not next to any houses, and 60-odd neighbors had signed a letter in support of the variances.

Jack said he appreciated the neighborhood’s desire for more vitality, and assured them that the upcoming redevelopment of Highland Mall would take them out of isolation.

The Board of Adjustment will consider the case for a third time at its October meeting.

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