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Token hearing held for controversial Marshall PUD

Tuesday, November 25, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

City Council members and neighbors both had concerns about a proposed Planned Unit Development in Southwest Austin last week, despite the fact that neither group actually has a say in what will happen with the development.

As part of the PUD ordinance, city staff presents a development assessment to the Council for all proposed PUDs. In this case, the development assessment for the Marshall Planned Unit Development was presented to current Council members, who will be gone before the matter comes back to the new Council seated in January.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell questioned the point of the hearing.

“What are we doing here?” asked Leffingwell. “This Council won’t be taking any action on this. We’re just receiving the briefing.”

Additionally, while the nearby Lost Creek subdivision will be annexed by the city a year from January, its residents will not be Austin citizens until then. As a result, neither compatibility standards nor petition rights apply to the project.

Jennifer Lamm, president of the Lost Creek Neighborhood Association, spoke about the proposed development.

“I would ask that maybe you tell them to either go back to the drawing board — or to go away,” said Lamm.

The proposed PUD consists of an office development on about 29.6 acres, 7.6 acres of civic or commercial use, and a 0.1 acre tract to preserve a historic cemetery. Currently, the land is zoned SF-2, but the developers are asking for a base zoning of General Office (GO).

Lamm said the neighborhood has been “patient and reasonable — so far.” She said a lack of cooperation from the developers had made it hard to get information out to the neighborhood.

“Developers are only paying lip service to the idea of working with us,” Lamm said. “The developers are approaching this as if they are negotiating down from five and seven stories — as if they are entitled to it. The land was properly zoned SF-2, and any attempts now or in the future should heavily weigh the effects of that development on the surrounding neighborhood character.”

In his presentation to the Council, the Planning and Development Review Department’s Jerry Rusthoven expressed some reservations of his own.

“I think we have some pretty major issues to work through,” said Rusthoven.

He said that increasing allowed height from 40 feet to 122 feet, increasing allowed cut and fill, and the prospect of constitution on slopes were “all very serious issues.” With prompting, Rusthoven expressed particular concern over the increased cut and fill, saying, “It’s been a while since I’ve seen the numbers that are proposed here.”

Under city code, cut and fill up to 4 feet is allowed. This project is seeking the right to cut up to 50 feet and fill up to 35 feet.

Rusthoven also questioned whether the proposed purchase of a fire station tract met the level of superiority required by the PUD ordinance. He said that although the city did have a need for a fire station in that area, he was concerned that the offer was to allow the city to purchase a site for a fire station. He pointed out that this was “an opportunity always available to the city.”

Though the PUD will be considered by the next City Council next year, Council Member Laura Morrison took the opportunity to express concern that land currently zoned SF-2 could soon be home to a 122-foot office building.

“It’s an extraordinary change,” said Morrison. “It’s a complete shift in its use.”

Drenner Group’s Steve Drenner spoke on behalf of developer Cousins Properties.

Drenner said the development plan came out of a number of discussions with the neighborhood, and that a number of the developer’s requests were a direct result of trying to meet resident demands — such as moving access off Lost Creek Boulevard and moving the parking garage away from the neighborhood. He explained that they were proposing to bury the garage — accounting for the large cut and fill request.

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