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Monday, March 30, 2015 by Kara Nuzback

Planners, residents call for Rainey master plan

The Planning Commission says it will likely deny several property owners’ joint request to vacate land on East Avenue, near Rainey Street, because the area needs a neighborhood plan.

Ben Turner of Consort Inc., representing four landowners, asked the commission at its meeting Tuesday to allow a total vacation of 19,700 square feet at the corner of East Avenue and Lambie Street. Turner admitted the property is located in a high-traffic area, but said the land can be developed into a high-rise and the vacation would allow for a larger space on the ground floor to house a small grocery store.

Turner said the vacation would account for only 200 additional vehicle trips per day. “It’s just a very small change in the traffic,” he said.

Residents in the neighboring Towers of Town Lake attended the meeting to oppose the vacation. Susan Morgan, president of Towers of Town Lake board of directors, said zoning the Rainey Street area as Central Business District has pushed its infrastructure to the limit. Morgan said Towers residents enjoy living in the high-density urban area, but parking is stressed, and residents cannot travel into or out of the area without sitting in traffic.

“We need an examination of that infrastructure that we have not had,” she said. “We want a Rainey District master plan.” Morgan asked the commission to deny the vacation and stop giving away property easements until a plan is established.

“You can’t just let the developers come in there and build, build, build,” she argued. Morgan also noted that the vacations would not guarantee a grocery store on the ground floor of the property.

Another Towers resident, Michael Abelson, said no developers have bought the property yet. “What is the rush to vacate this land?” he asked.

Abelson said if a developer buys the property and wants to set up a grocery store, a vacation request could be presented to the Planning Commission then.

In his rebuttal, Turner said the Rainey Street Neighborhood Association is not opposing the vacation. He also said city staff told him it had no intention to develop a master plan for the area.

When asked if there was any intention to develop a plan for the Rainey Street area, Eric Hammack of the city’s Office of Real Estate Services said the Urban Design Division pointed him to the goals for the Rainey Street area in the Downtown Austin Plan. He said the city had no plans for the area to have its own plan.

Commissioner Stephen Oliver said the Downtown Austin Plan contains only general planning principles for Rainey.

Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza made a motion to deny the vacation. “Maybe this will spur the city to look at that area more closely,” she said.

Commissioner James Nortey said he wanted to postpone a vote on the vacation indefinitely and direct city staff to look into developing a plan for the Rainey District. Oliver agreed, saying, “Let’s initiate something for Rainey that’s been asked for, been promised.”

Commissioner Alfonso Hernandez also agreed, noting the problems with traffic in the area. “I can only imagine trying to get out of there … at least Thursday through Saturday,” he said.

Zaragoza amended her motion at Nortey’s request, and it passed 8-0.

After the applicants left the meeting, Assistant City Attorney Nick Goodling said the commission could not postpone the vote indefinitely. Zaragoza made a new motion to postpone the vote until the commission’s April 14 meeting, so that the city could notify the applicants. She said the commission would not take any more comments from the public at that time.

The motion passed 8-0, with Chair Danette Chimenti and Commissioners Nortey, Richard Hatfield, Jean Stevens, Oliver, Brian Roark and Hernandez in support of the postponement.

 

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

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.

Rainey Street: Once a quiet residential street, Rainey Street quickly transformed once the historic district was incorporate into the Central Business District in 2004. Currently, the street remains in transition as the bars in the original homes there make way for larger development projects.

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