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Friday, November 14, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

High-end Montopolis condos get planning approval

A proposal for high-priced condominiums in Montopolis is moving forward, despite concerns from the neighborhood that the project could be a harbinger of gentrification.

PRJ Development was asking for a neighborhood plan amendment from Civic to Mixed Use and to add Mixed Use to the current Limited Office zoning on just under 5 acres at 1007 and 1011 Montopolis Drive.

On Tuesday, Planning Commissioners recommended the plan amendment and rezoning with an added request that the project include up to 1,500 square feet of office space. Chair Danette Chimenti and Commissioners Brian Roark, and Jean Stevens voted in opposition.

“I’m shocking myself on this one,” said Roark. “I have to admit, the gentrification angle on this particular piece of property is persuasive to me.”

Chimenti said the issue wasn’t just economic. It was also about what the neighborhood wanted and what their neighborhood plan called for, and in this case, it was retail or other services not currently there.

They were not in the majority.

“I think one of the reasons that there isn’t more retail or more offices in the area is that those businesses just don’t think they will make it there. I think if you develop more of this type of housing, it might be more attractive to those businesses,” said Commissioner Alfonso Hernandez.

Ron Thrower, who represented the developer, explained that the zoning change would allow them to build condominiums on the property. They are also considering construction of an office building on the site.

Thrower said that, though the price point had not yet been firmly established, he would put it in the $200,000 range for units that will be between 900 and 1,100 square feet. Thrower pointed out that while house values ranged from $60,000 to $90,000, house sale prices told a different story, with houses for sale at almost twice their appraised value.

Susana Almanza, president of the Montopolis Neighborhood Contact Team, spoke in opposition to the change. She said that nearby homeowners were concerned about their property taxes, increased gentrification and detrimental impact to the neighborhood character.

Almanza explained that the majority of Montopolis residents lived at 30 percent of Median Family Income, and could not afford to live in the proposed development. She said the increased home values would only serve to displace current residents.

“This is a poor community. We have seen what has happened in the Cesar Chavez community; we have seen what has happened in the Holly Neighborhood; and we have seen what has happened in the Govalle-Johnson Terrace neighborhood. It’s finally arriving at the Montopolis area,” said Almanza. “This project is not compatible with the community.”

Almanza said the community did need office uses in the area, and offices would be more compatible with the existing area. She said the neighborhood was also open to things like retail or restaurants, and though the neighborhood had allowed high-priced residents on the outskirts of Montopolis, they were trying to preserve the core for lower-income residents who had lived there for generations.

“Really, a development like this is only going to bring gentrification and it’s going to start the displacement of the people,” said Almanza. “It’s not a positive thing.”

 

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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.

Montopolis: An East Austin neighborhood bounded by Grove Street to the west, Texas State Highway 71 to the south and the Southeast Austin neighborhood and U.S. Route 183 to the east. It is located in District 3.

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