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ZAP gives Spicewood Springs project new life

Friday, December 19, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

After a denial from City Council earlier this year, the developer of the Overlook at Spicewood Springs has returned with a compromise.

Currently, the property at 4920 Spicewood Springs Road is undeveloped. The developer is seeking a zoning change from SF-2 to Limited Office (LO). It was Plan B for the developer, who unsuccessfully sought a change to the more-intense General Office (GO) zoning earlier this year.

Scott Taylor, project manager with Tierra Concepts, explained that, from the start, the project was planned as a Limited Office project, but they had asked for GO zoning in order to move the front setback forward 15 feet. Without that, they will remain at a 25-foot setback.

On Tuesday, Zoning and Platting Commissioners approved the change unanimously, with some conditions. They required that a site plan be returned to them for approval by making the office use conditional. They also voted to limit the building to two stories and limit vehicle trips to 500 per day.

Commissioner Patricia Seeger explained that the nearby Austin Board of Realtor’s building had cast a shadow over the case before them.

“That building has really poisoned the well for any development along Spicewood Springs Road. And that’s why you are under such tough scrutiny by the neighborhood,” said Seeger.

Taylor told the commission that the developer has already made a number of compromises with the neighborhood.

“We’ve come to agreement on a lot of things. The only thing we haven’t come to agreement on is the size of the building,” said Taylor.

Taylor explained that the developer is proposing 18,500 square feet, and neighbors would like a building that is 10,500 square feet. In comparison, he said, the property to the east is 1.9 acres and has a 10,000 square foot building on it, and the property to the west is 0.6 acres and has a 13,000 square foot building. The tract in question is bigger than both of those, at 4 acres.

“There’s nothing out of proportion here,” said Taylor, who added that the development would occur on the front acre that is on Spicewood Springs Road, leaving the more environmentally sensitive back 3 acres alone.

Bob Otto spoke on behalf of the Spicewood Vista Homeowners Association.

“We went through all of this last summer,” said Otto. “We got involved because this same developer built the Austin Board of Realtors building, which was offensive to all of us.”

Otto explained that they had spent a lot of time speaking about their concerns with Council in August. Those concerns were primarily about traffic and the fact that the building was too big for the area.

“He hasn’t changed anything. He’s moved it farther away from the road and closer to the environmental issues on the backside,” said Otto. “The only thing that’s changed now is a new City Council … This building is too big for the property.”

Joyce Statz, president of the Northwest Austin Civic Association, said her group supported LO zoning — with a two-story limit on height and limits on vehicle trips, floor-to-area ratio and impervious cover. She also said they were asking the developers to set aside a portion of the property as a conservation easement, or something similar.

Seeger responded that the developer does not own the property, making it difficult to ask for an easement. She said, “I think that may be the wrong tactic. If he doesn’t own it, he can’t agree to it.”

Others asked for the zoning to be maintained as single-family and disputed that the section of Spicewood Springs Road where the building will be located is actually “major arterial roadway.” Instead, they explained that part of the road is just two lanes at the moment, and there are no immediate plans for the road to be enlarged though that has been expected since the 1980s.

In June, Austin Code issued a stop work order due to the unpermitted removal of trees on the lot. Taylor assured commissioners that they were not heritage trees. He said they would be mitigating their removal, nonetheless.

Taylor said the development will most likely need an environmental variance, which will require a trip back to the commission as well as the Environmental Board.

Commissioner Jackie Goodman spoke to the bigger picture.

“This is the kind of case where people keep wanting to go back to zoning with site plans. Because there are issues on a site like this one that actually should be nailed down as a condition of zoning. And we, at this point, are not encouraged to try and solve those problems from here even though we have kind of an oversight and big-picture view that would enable us to to that very thing,” said Goodman.

“Along with the new Council that comes, I hope there is a new policy expectation of giving people the tools and expecting from them the motivation to solve problems,” said Goodman. “We have them, but they are back in a closet and no one has taken them out of that closet for a long time.”

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