Tuesday, November 18, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

Planning Commission to revisit Lightsey 2

Despite still being in the early stages of development, PSW Real Estate’s Lightsey 2 project continues to provoke outrage in South Austin. And despite approving the preliminary plan at an earlier meeting, the Planning Commission will now take another look at it and consider reversing that decision.

Last week, Planning Commissioners took the unusual step of opening the case for reconsideration at their next meeting. Last month, commissioners approved the development’s preliminary plan after a lengthy discussion.

“It was a difficult case,” said Commissioner Stephen Oliver.

The move came after several neighbors spoke during the commission’s citizen’s communication about the project at 1805 Lightsey Road. They explained that they had new information not considered at the last meeting. The neighborhood contends that the preliminary plan application had expired by the time the case reached the Planning Commission in July, and should not have been considered.

Antonio Gonzalez spoke on the behalf of the Barton Oaks and South Lamar Neighborhood Associations at Tuesday’s meeting. He said the preliminary plan had already been automatically denied because it was filed on July 1, 2013. The review period, even with extensions, ended on July 9, 2014, according to Gonzalez.

The key question, he said, was whether the city granted a Heritage Tree variance before that date. Gonzalez says that, according to his research, the answer is no.

The argument was persuasive enough to get Commissioners Nuria Zaragoza and Oliver to rescind their votes.

Oliver explained that he would like to hear more details about the case, and noted that the first presentation was “like listening to a legal case.”

Zaragoza also rescinded her vote, saying the expired permit was new information.

Neighbor and development consultant Jim Witliff pointed out that the commissioners approved the preliminary plan under “pretty unusual circumstances” at their last meeting.

“I’ve never been at a Planning Commission hearing with that many department heads huddled up with the applicant, forming their game plan, and up there … tap-dancing their way through some of your pretty tough questions and some of our very tough allegations,” said Witliff.

Witliff said that city staff never answered lingering questions about block length, nor cleared up the confusion about the Heritage Tree variance.

South Lamar development will also be the topic of two separate items from City Council Member Laura Morrison at this Thursday’s Council meeting, though it is unlikely that either will have an effect on a project that has already begun the city development process.

The first resolution will “formalize and implement” the South Lamar Mitigation Plan. Specifically, the resolution asks staff to enact “closer cross-departmental scrutiny of development review cases.” It also calls for a closer look at whether infill and urban development are adversely impacting the area, and whether code amendments should be processed through the CodeNEXT process. The resolution also calls for funding a number of studies and mitigation plans, among other things, identified in the South Lamar report.

The other Council item takes the unorthodox step of asking staff to set a public hearing next month in order to establish interim development regulations for the South Lamar area.

The Lightsey 2 plan will be discussed, again, at the Dec. 9 meeting of the Planning Commission. At that time, the full Planning Commission will decide whether it will reverse its original approval. First, however, two-thirds of the commission must approve the decision to rescind or amend the earlier vote.

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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.

South Austin: South Austin is, very roughly, the portion of Austin south of Lady Bird Lake.

South Lamar: A major thoroughfare in South Austin, South Lamar is a primary route to and from downtown, as well as one of the city's main corridors.

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