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Council to postpone all this week’s zoning cases

Wednesday, January 28, 2015 by Jo Clifton

After a lengthy discussion at Tuesday’s work session, City Council members decided —  without voting — that they would postpone all zoning items on Thursday’s agenda in the expectation that they will have a better understanding of what they are voting on after their briefing on land use issues.

Most of the conversation centered around the controversial Garza tract, which has approval for a zoning change but lacks permission for the increase in the number of trips per day the property will generate. The Thursday briefing includes issues related to transportation and environmental matters.

Planning Director Greg Guernsey told Council that a traffic impact analysis had shown the estimated trip generation for the tract at between 16,000 and 17,000 trips daily, based on the development planned. That is what the Garza family is seeking.

Approximately 20 other cases will also be postponed. However, there was no discussion about those cases.

The Western Oaks Property Owners Association had requested the postponement for the Garza tract case. Tracy Watson, a city retiree and former head of the planning department, is president of that neighborhood group. In his request for postponement, Watson wrote that his association is opposed to the change in zoning, which has already occurred. In addition, the group is opposed to raising the vehicle trip per day limit, noting that area roadways are overcrowded and that one major intersection, MoPac at William Cannon, already operates at a failing level.

Zoning manager Jerry Rusthoven explained to the Austin Monitor that the Garza case had first gone to the Planning Commission in June 2014 and staff postponed consideration several times. The commission finally heard the case on Dec. 9 but sent it to Council with no recommendation. Council then postponed the item, sending it to the new Council. (For a longer history of the Garza tract and its trek through city processes, go here.)

Assistant City Manager Sue Edwards told Council that staff did not intend to postpone the case and had heard that some members favored postponement while others were opposed. Council Member Leslie Pool then said that she intended to move for postponement. After an explanation that no motions could be made until Thursday, Pool said she would do so at that time.

Mayor Steve Adler, a land condemnation attorney who represents property owners, said that he had represented the Garza family as well as Lowe’s, which bought property from the Garzas in the early 2000s. However, he has not worked on this particular case. Adler said he was advised by legal counsel that he should disclose his work with the family and that he was still thinking about whether to recuse himself from consideration of the case.

Adler said he would vote for postponement if he does participate. He added, “It’s my understanding that it could generate between 30,000 and 40,000 trips per day,” if the property were developed in a certain way. However, that much additional traffic would cause the road systems to fail, therefore the proposal would be refused. He said the net new traffic per day would be around 13,900.

Adler added that he wished the previous councils had not agreed to such development on the property but understood that they had probably struck the best deal they could get.

Adler continued, “The other thing is … the question of how much deference do we give to an individual Council member on an individual zoning case that arises in that Council member’s district.”

Adler said he would pay some deference to thoughts from the Council member whose district the case arose in, because that member would have particular insights about the district. Beyond that, however, he said he probably would not give too much consideration to the property’s location.

“Because it’s my hope that we will be deciding the zoning cases based on policies that reach across the city,” Adler said. “My hope is that we don’t have one set of rules for cases in this person’s district … and another set of rules in another part of the city because that person comes from a different place. So I will always be looking for the statement, ‘What is the guiding principle?'”

Several other Council members said they would be supporting the postponement of all the cases. There had been a rumor that District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair, in whose district the zoning case lies, would oppose the postponement. Troxclair, however, said she was amenable to the delay.

And fellow Republican Council Member Don Zimmerman said he would go along with the delay since all of the cases were being postponed.

There was no discussion of when the cases would return, but the next meeting is Feb. 12.


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