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Council limits Spicewood Springs project footprint

Wednesday, February 18, 2015 by Kara Nuzback

City Council voted Thursday to approve a zoning change that would allow a new professional office building on Spicewood Springs Road. Council limited the size of the structure to 12,000 square feet, despite protests from the applicants.

The vote was 10-0, as Mayor Steve Adler recused himself, saying his law firm had dealings with one of the applicants in the past.

Project manager Scott Taylor, speaking on behalf of applicants Joseph Benford and Richard A. Haberman Trust, said the owners previously sought to build an 18,500-square-foot structure on the property at 4920 Spicewood Springs Road, which is currently undeveloped and zoned for single-family use. Taylor said that after speaking with the nearby neighborhood and civic associations, the owners were willing to limit the height of the structure to 35 feet and allow only 32 percent impervious cover. “It’s allowed 40 percent by the [Bull Creek] Watershed,” he said.

Taylor said the owners also agreed to a list of prohibited uses of the property, dubbed Overlook at Spicewood Springs, including use as medical offices, day care or education facilities.

However, Taylor added, the owners would not agree to limit the building to 12,000 square feet.

“We’ve agreed to everything else they’ve asked, a laundry list of things they’ve asked,” he said. “We’ll agree to a 16,000-square-foot compromise. … I think it’s very reasonable.”

Neighbors argued that even at 12,000 square feet, the building would be larger than any other office buildings on the road except the Austin Board of Realtors (ABoR) building, which exceeds 30,000 square feet.

Bob Otto of Spicewood Vista Homeowners Association said the ABoR building was constructed without notice to the neighborhood, and many trees were cut down to make room for the structure.

“It has galvanized us against more of these being built,” he said. Taylor was also the project manager for the ABoR building, Otto added.

Otto also said that Taylor did not work with the neighborhood in planning the new structure. Council Member Sheri Gallo was at the forefront of the conversation.

Dennis Watts of Spicewood Green Homeowners Association said most neighborhood residents do not oppose the zoning change from single-family to limited office, but everyone wants a smaller building than the developers have in mind.

Watts said the property sits in a desirable location, and offices would be profitable even in a much smaller structure.

“You can make money in this area. There’s plenty of people that want to rent in this area,” he said.

Watts also noted that Spicewood Springs Road is already a major throughway, despite its narrow, two-lane design. “We call it Spicewood Farm-to-Market Road because that’s what it feels like,” he said. “You’ve got to turn right to go left.”

Watts said an oversize office complex would only exacerbate the existing traffic congestion on the road.

In his rebuttal, Taylor told Council, “I don’t have the time to address all the misinformation that was just given to you.”

He said Spicewood Springs is a designated urban roadway, and a reduction in the size of the building is a reduction to the city’s tax base.

Gallo said a valid petition filed in opposition to the developers’ request showed that 41 percent of residents are against the proposed structure. In negotiations between the developers and the neighborhood, Gallo said, “We hit a brick wall with the square footage.”

Gallo moved to change the zoning of the property to limited office, but cap the square footage at 12,000. Council Member Ora Houston seconded the motion.

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