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Developer seeks creative class on Cameron Road

Thursday, March 5, 2015 by Kara Nuzback

A developer is one step closer to building a median-priced apartment complex aimed at young artists on Cameron Road in Northeast Austin.

At the Zoning and Platting Commission meeting Tuesday, commissioners unanimously approved a zoning change for the property at 9201 Cameron Road from limited industrial (LI) to commercial services, mixed-use (CS-MU).

Nickelle Meade of Husch Blackwell, representing owner Philip Capron, went to the commission initially asking it to change the zoning from LI to high-density multifamily (MF-5).

Heather Chaffin of the city’s Planning and Development Review Department said the staff did not recommend the owner’s initial zoning request because the 12-acre plot of land is surrounded by other industrial properties and is not conducive to residential use. Chaffin said several undeveloped surrounding LI properties are zoned for intense industrial structures, which could affect the health and safety of families who took up residence in the proposed complex.

Meade argued that there are other nonindustrial structures in the area, including a church, Gus Garcia Park and Recreation Center, North Acres Park and the Asian American Resource Center.

“The area really is changing,” Meade said. “Adding some nice residential … will be the catalyst to really change the area.”

She noted there is no grocery store in proximity to the property, but bus stops are located within 50 feet of where the entrance to the apartment complex would be. Meade also said that nearby schools — Hart Elementary, Dobie Middle, Harmony Science Academy and Reagan High — are all below capacity.

“The schools there are really underserved and really do need more students,” she said.

According to Meade, the owner does not yet have a site plan, but intends to build a 300-unit complex with a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom units. The complex would contain amenities such as a pool and recreation center. The proposed apartments would be moderately priced to cater to young artists, but would not include any Safe, Mixed-income, Accessible, Reasonably priced, Transit-oriented (SMART) housing because neighboring property owners strongly opposed the idea.

“The residents in this area felt they had more than their share (of SMART housing),” Meade said.

Commissioner Jackie Goodman said the proposal fit well in the Imagine Austin concept because residents of the complex would be near workplaces, which could cut traffic in the area. She also said that warehouse districts often draw the creative population, who would not be put off by surrounding LI properties.

Commissioners Sean Compton and Rahm McDaniel agreed with Goodman. Compton said adding more residential lots to the area could improve public safety by “putting eyes on the street.”

“I believe more residential helps … in the idea and notion of creating community,” Compton said.

McDaniel added that the Austin Independent School District is losing students — and school funding — because families are moving out of the city into more affordable suburbs. “Simply because there is not enough housing for median-income people in Austin,” he said. “This proposal seems very much in the spirit of Imagine Austin to me.”

Chair Betty Baker proposed changing the zoning for the property from LI to CS-MU, rather than MF-5. Vice Chair Patricia Seeger agreed that CS-MU would be more compatible with the area. Meade said the developer would not oppose the change because it would still allow an apartment complex on the property.

Seeger made a motion to change the zoning with a conditional overlay of 2,000 vehicular trips per day and a maximum of 310 units. Baker seconded the motion, with all commissioners in support.


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