Wednesday, September 17, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Tank farm to be transformed into creative collective

A former tank farm tract in East Austin is set to get a hipster makeover, if the city approves its zoning change.

The land, located at 1023 Springdale Road, is just under 10 acres. It is currently zoned a combination of Rural Residential (RR) and Community Commercial (GR). Developers are asking for a zoning change to General Commercial Services (CS). Staff was recommending the zoning change, though they attached a long list of prohibited uses.

According to South Llano Strategies consultant Glen Coleman, the zoning change will allow the developers, Springdale Partners LTD, to design something similar to their Canopy project, which is located down the street. The project is envisioned as a community studio and co-working space that will allow artists and craftsmen to share costs and “come together, combine resources, reduce traffic, reduce costs and create a little bit of a community.”

“I think this is a great opportunity for the neighborhood, and a lot of revitalization,” said Commissioner Jean Stevens. “I could see it becoming a nice point of interest.”

Planning Commissioners voted 6-0 to change the zoning, with Commissioner James Nortey absent.

For 35 years, the tank farm was a complex of petroleum and chemical tanks owned by major oil companies that held large amounts of fuels and toxic chemicals in the heart of of East Austin. In 1991, the community group PODER was formed, and after several years of activism, forced officials to shut down the facility and eventually clean up the area.

Among the categories that staff suggested should be prohibited was a limited warehouse and distribution use, which the neighborhood supported. Planning and Development Review city planner Heather Chaffin said that, because of the proximity to the residential neighborhood, the use “might be too intense” despite compatibility standards.

Commissioner Brian Roark said, “Usually the neighborhoods tend to be a bit more conservative than staff. Now y’all are being a bit more paternalistic, which seems an anomaly. I’m just trying to figure out why that is.”

Chaffin explained that she had just heard from the neighborhood the day before, and didn’t fully understand the residents’ reasoning. She said she couldn’t change the recommendation as an individual and that it was a collective staff decision.

Coleman said the developers needed the limited warehouse use in order for the project to work, but would be willing to limit that use to a portion of the land.

Planning Commissioners opted to grant the request.

Coleman said they believed that all of the restrictions on the zoning could be included in a conditional overlay, not a restrictive covenant. He said he was “a little nervous” about a restrictive covenant, and unsure whether it would be public or private.

Chair Danette Chimenti was also concerned. She said that trip limits and other limitations would most likely need to be in a restrictive covenant with the neighborhood, and recommended that funds be secured from the developers if the neighborhood were to enforce those restrictions.

“If that falls on the neighborhood, that’s always a bad situation, if the neighborhood doesn’t have the funds to enforce,” said Chimenti. “That would be a concern I would have. Because I think that is a big reason the neighborhood is supporting the use that you want.”

Though the Planning Commission cannot control the execution of private restrictive covenants, Coleman assured commissioners that the developers “would do whatever it takes to honor the planning team’s recommendation” and would have that revised plan ready by the time the case went to City Council.

Coleman said the neighborhood did not fear the intensity of any of the proposed uses, but wanted a vegetative buffer.

There are currently five buildings on the site. Developers plan to remodel the existing structures and potentially add one or two more.

 

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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.

East Austin: East Austin is the quadrant of Austin that, generally speaking, is east of IH-35.

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