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Tuesday, January 20, 2015 by Kara Nuzback
Planners back apartment complex on Burnet Road
An automotive repair shop on Burnet Road could become a 60-foot-tall apartment building, if City Council approves a zoning change for the property.
At a Planning Commission meeting last week, Robert Crump and Charles Gordon, owners of the property at 8528 Burnet Road — where Gordon Automotive sits — sought the commission’s recommendation to change the zoning from a commercial services (CS) building to an MF-6 high-density, multifamily residential structure.
The recommendation passed 6-2 with Commissioners Noria Zaragoza, Alfonso Hernandez, Brian Roark, Jean Stevens, Lesley Varghese and Richard Hatfield voting in favor. Hernandez said MF-6 zoning is appropriate for the property because public transportation is accessible, and the apartments would increase the supply of housing in the city.
Commission Chair Danette Chimenti and Member James Nortey voted against the recommendation. Nortey said MF-6 zoning was not right for the corridor.
“We need to be much smarter about how we zone this area,” he said.
Vice Chair Stephen Oliver was absent.
Sherri Sirwaitis of the Planning and Development Review Department said city staff recommended the zoning change as long as the complex was limited to a height of 60 feet and contained no more than 300 residential units. She also said 15 percent of the units would be reserved for affordable housing under the city’s Safe, Mixed-Income, Accessible, Reasonably priced, Transit-oriented, or SMART Housing Program for five years, according to the developer’s proposal.
In an Austin Independent School District impact statement, the district said the complex would add an estimated 30 students to local schools’ overall grade levels and noted the overcrowding at a nearby elementary school. No one from Austin ISD attended the meeting to speak against or in favor of the proposal.
Speaking on behalf of the owners, attorney Henry Gilmore said multifamily residential structures surround the property. He also noted that several bus stops, schools, restaurants and companies like IBM, Time Warner and Apple are within walking distance.
“You don’t necessarily need to have a car to live here,” he said.
Gilmore said if the plan goes forward, the building would also contain retail outlets on the ground floor.
Developer C.J. Sackman of Sackman Enterprises, a company based in New York and new to Austin, said the building would be 250,000 square feet.
“We’re looking to incorporate outdoor amenity space,” he said, including bike storage and a fitness center. He also said the apartments would contain quality accessories such as granite counter tops, 9-foot ceilings and balconies.
Sackman said units would range from 600-square-foot studios to 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom apartments, costing renters about $2 per square foot.
Mary Arnett, a renter in the North Shoal Creek neighborhood, spoke in favor of the proposal, saying more apartments would help the area stay affordable.
“We need rental housing stock,” she said.
Other area residents spoke against the proposal and asked the commission to wait for CodeNEXT to make zoning changes.
Kevin Weir of the North Shoal Creek Neighborhood Association said the association voted against supporting the developer’s request.
“We’re not anti-growth,” he said. However, Weir explained, the association wants a neighborhood plan in place before the area is further developed.
“There’s a lot of pending planning,” Weir said, adding that the developer should obey the current zoning maps or wait to see what future zoning yields after CodeNEXT and a neighborhood plan are enacted.
Weir also said that MF-6 zoning is too dense for the corridor.
Steven Zettner, president of the group Sustainable Neighborhoods of North Central Austin, said middle-density, MF-4 zoning was a better alternative to create more residential housing on Burnet Road.
Zettner also said the area is not as walkable as downtown Austin and that residents would not likely use the bus system because of its inefficiency.
In his rebuttal, Gilmore said he disagreed with the notion that residents of the proposed structure would not use the city bus line.
“It’s about 1,200 feet from the rapid transit stop,” he said, adding that a northbound bus stop is directly across the street and the No. 3 bus line stops directly in front of the property.
“I do think this site is extremely transit-friendly,” Gilmore said.
Before the vote, Roark said a five-year commitment to SMART Housing was not enough, and asked the developer to make a 15-year commitment.
“We’re going to blink and it’s going to be five years from now,” he said.
Sackman said he would be willing to commit to 10 years of guaranteed affordable housing.
“The area’s new, the market’s evolving. But, you know, 10 years would be fine for us,” he said.
Sirwaitis noted that neither the commission nor City Council could require SMART Housing on the site; the city can only encourage participation.
Hernandez made the motion to recommend approval of the project. Roark seconded the motion.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Burnet Road: One of the central corridors in North Central Austin, Burnet Road is most perhaps most charmingly known for its appearance in "Dazed and Confused," but has changed quite a bit since then.
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.