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Commission questions Coronado Hills condos

Monday, November 17, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

A condominium project at the intersection of two of Austin’s busiest roads failed to win the approval of the Planning Commission last week.

Currently, the 22.48 acres at US 290 and US 183 are zoned General Office (GO). Developers Cozy Living, LLC, AAA Fire & Safety, and Sayed Miri were asking to add Mixed Use to that zoning as well as change the Future Land Use Map. The change would allow them to build the Coronado Hills condominium project at 7400, 7244 and 7450 East U.S. Highway 290 at 2509 East Anderson Lane.

Planning Commissioners voted 6-2 to not recommend the changes, with Commissioners James Nortey and Richard Hatfield voting against the motion, and Commissioner Lesley Varghese absent.

Commissioner Stephen Oliver said it wasn’t an ideal use for a highway intersection, despite the “overwhelming need” for single-family housing in Austin.

Chair Danette Chimenti agreed, saying the office zoning was much more appropriate for the location.

Commissioner James Nortey disagreed. He pointed out that while the plan might be to build single-family homes, Mixed Use would be an appropriate zoning. He said that people had the right to decide whether they wanted to live that close to the highway for themselves.

“I think it would be paternalistic to say that they can’t move there because we don’t like that vision,” said Nortey.

The developers are planning to build single-family detached condominiums. Coats, Rose, Yale, Ryman & Lee Director Pamela Madere said they planned to build about 80 condos. About 7.5 acres will remain protected green space.

Madere explained that, as a concession to the neighborhood, the developers would be willing to prohibit vehicles, pedestrians and bicyclists from being able to access the neighborhood. Instead, residents would use the frontage road to access their homes.

Oliver questioned the prohibition on pedestrian and bike connectivity.

“We are saying any family that moves in with a student at Reagan (High School), you are going to put your bike on the highway frontage to get to school,” he said. “I can’t handle that. It’s short-sighted of us as a community to say our kids are going to go on highway frontage to go anywhere. I understand that neighborhoods don’t want cut-through traffic, but I think we have to respect the safety of kids.”

Oliver also said that the lack of connectivity to surrounding neighborhoods meant residents would be forced onto the highways as their sole means of access.

“I don’t think that is an appropriate way to develop a city,” said Oliver. “I think residential needs to be connected to the neighborhoods, not forced out into highway frontage.”

Madere agreed that connectivity was a benefit to communities, but said the developers wanted to honor the neighborhood’s request. Despite this concession, neighbors remained opposed to the project.

Coronado Hills Contact Team Chair Meredith Morningstar said that the neighborhood had designated the land for office use intentionally because an office project would be less disruptive to the neighbors in terms of noise and traffic, and would have less of an impact on nearby creeks.

Morningstar said the team had yet to see a site plan, which the developers have said they will not supply without a zoning change. She said that without the plan, the neighborhood could not support the change due to conflicting, insufficient information about what developers want to build.

Coronado Hills/Creekside Neighborhood Association member Bonny Turek also spoke against the developers’ request.

“To increase the housing density by construction of an additional 90 to 110 condominiums on that corner property is not wise use of the land,” said Turek. “It is an inappropriate location in which to place family-style housing so close to the super-busy, noisy, high-volume traffic convergence of two major highways: 183 and 290, with over 20 lanes of highway spanning out in four directions.”

“It’s a very, very inappropriate place to try to raise a family or try to have a family development — in the shadows of that huge interchange,” she continued.

Turek explained that the neighborhood plan represented their “best efforts to prevent this type of development from happening.” Turek said the proposed development would contribute to the neighborhood’s traffic problem and add to the density of an area of town that was already one of the densest.

Madere said the proposed development would actually be less dense than the surrounding neighborhood. She also said the proposed buffer would protect the neighborhood as well as preserve and protect the green space.

Madere added that density wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. “There are a lot of areas of town that actually would like to become more dense so that they can feel like they are more of a community,” she said. “In this case, the neighborhood seems to have some concerns about the density, but I think in respect to this development, that concern is misplaced.”

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