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Neighbors organize against planned Northwest PUD

Tuesday, December 9, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Austin Oaks Planned Unit Development in Northwest Austin has already come under fire, inspired an opposing website and sparked the creation of a new neighborhood alliance, despite being very early in the zoning process.

Developers Spire Realty Group LP presented the plan for the Austin Oaks PUD this summer. At the time, they proposed construction of 610 town home and multifamily units, 850,000 square feet of office space and 100,000 square feet of retail space on about 32 acres located on the southwest corner of Spicewood Springs Road and the MoPac Expressway. They were also asking for a maximum height of 225 feet along some of the MoPac frontage.

Neighbors, who have created a website to detail the plan, news and sound the rallying cry against the plan, have not embraced the proposal.

Since their initial proposal, developers have offered some compromises. Late last month, they told the neighborhood that they would reduce the number of planned apartments to 300 units, with the saved space to remain community green space, and offered to limit the height of the tallest building to 200 feet.

In a creative attempt at appeasement, they have offered $160,000 in improvements to the playground, sidewalks and crosswalks at nearby Doss elementary. They have also proposed a fund for improvements that will be based on a percentage of property taxes. According to a document posted on the “No PUD” website, that fund — the Austin Oaks School Assistance Trust — is expected to generate $9.2 million by the year 2032.

However, the zoning change remains a sticking point. Balcones Civic Association President Debra Bailey spoke to the Austin Monitor about their concerns.

“Our neighborhoods are still not interested in a zoning change. They want that corner to be developed under the current zoning,” said Bailey. “That corner could be developed into something nice under the current zoning.”

After a community meeting in August, four of the neighborhoods that would be affected by the proposed PUD joined to form the Northwest Austin Neighborhood Alliance. That alliance consists of the Allandale Neighborhood Association, the Balcones Civic Association, the North Shoal Creek Neighborhood Association and the Northwest Austin Civic Association.

Bailey explained that the group would stay together to address the multitude of zoning change requests headed its way.

“Because Austin has grown so much, and Northwest Hills is kind of in the Domain-ish area, which the city envisions as kind of a second downtown … It’s really become attractive to developers. Instead of a two- or three-story office building, they want to put in a 20-story office building,” said Bailey.

“It really takes away from what our neighborhood has been, what it is and what it should be in the future,” Bailey continued. “Houston has two downtowns. That’s ridiculous.”

The group says it represents 12,660 households, and that a survey conducted found that residents “overwhelmingly” requested a denial of the zoning change. A statement from the group reads, “The proposed Austin Oaks PUD project does not fit the long-term goals of our neighborhoods, it contributes more traffic on roads that cannot handle it, exceeds the capacity of our overcrowded schools, and removes too many trees.”

The request for PUD zoning is scheduled to be heard at the Dec. 16 meeting of the Zoning and Platting Commission, though it is expected that it will be postponed at that time.

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