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Council approves rezoning on North Lamar lot

Tuesday, March 3, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though Mayor Steve Adler warned that the first approval was “tenuous,” a North Lamar rezoning case will move forward after City Council members approved it on first reading Thursday.

Council voted 9-2 to approve a rezoning at 11712 North Lamar Blvd., with Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Member Pio Renteria voting in opposition. Currently, the 3-acre lot is zoned Limited Office (LO). The new owner, Dennis W. Sheahan, is requesting a change to General Commercial Services (CS) zoning.

The Planning Commission voted against the change unanimously, but did vote to support staff’s suggestion, which would place the more intense uses along Lamar under Community Commercial (GR), and the office uses toward the neighborhood and creek.

Sheahan, who disagrees with staff’s recommendation, came ready to deal, with a brand-new proposal for Council. His representative, Ron Thrower, said that at this point, they were seeking CS zoning for only five uses: convenient storage, limited warehouse distribution, contractor sales and services, building maintenance services and vehicular storage.

Thrower explained that, while his client had the right to continue the current uses on the land, he could not borrow money to buy a piece of property that had uses that do not match the zoning. Without a rezoning, that is the present situation.

Getting slightly philosophical, Thrower conceded that the current use didn’t match Austin’s vision for the area, but he said it was temporary. He explained that by its very nature, convenient storage is a “land-banking” use and is likely to transition in the future, even if that change takes a couple of decades to happen.

Thrower said that although this might be the case, the property was not yet ready for the GR uses that the Planning Commission and staff had supported. He argued that if the area was successful in attracting a community commercial business, it would likely go to the vacant property to the south, which is already zoned that way.

“We are land-banking right now, but eventually it is going to be highly appropriate and in line with the Imagine Austin plan,” said Thrower. “I think it is going to be a long period of time before this stretch of Lamar is going to be fully absorbed for GR uses.”

Adler said that, for him, the difficulty was allowing additional investment in the land-banked use to occur, which would only serve to push true redevelopment further into the future.

Council Member Leslie Pool moved to approve the modified request from the applicant on first reading. The lot is in her district, District 7. She said that in the interim, the developer could work out how to “align the visions” between himself and the Imagine Austin plan.

The promise of vision alignment wasn’t enough for Tovo, who pointed out that the Planning Commission had opted to adopt staff’s recommendation instead, unanimously. She said the zoning should be consistent with the Imagine Austin plan and adjacent properties. Tovo also said that the modified rezoning would not impose a hardship, because it would not prohibit Sheahan from continuing the current use.

Currently, storage units and offices sit on the property, as well as a billboard. It was developed before annexation and has remained legal and nonconforming, but it cannot be redeveloped or expanded under those same standards.

Thrower said that his client wants to continue using the land for a storage facility, vehicle storage and retail, and wants the ability to update the site slightly. He assured Council that a Critical Water Quality Zone in the back of the property would never be developed.

The Walnut Creek Neighborhood Association supports the change.

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