Monday, March 2, 2015 by Kara Nuzback

Planners deny East Riverside change

At its most recent meeting, the Planning Commission voted 5-3 to deny zoning changes to several undeveloped lots from 5600 to 7522 Penick Drive, off East Riverside Drive.

Ron Thrower of Thrower Design spoke for landowner Bill Greif and asked the commission to rezone the area from Single Family (SF-1) to Neighborhood Mixed-Use (NMU), which would allow Greif to build a commercial driveway/alley to serve a proposed commercial structure fronting East Riverside Drive and four single-family units on Penick Drive. According to the application, vehicle access would be taken from Country Club Drive and gated at Penick Drive.

City staffer Wendy Rhoades told the commission that nearby residents filed a valid petition in opposition to the zoning change.

Penick Drive homeowner Lucy Sheffield pleaded with the commission to deny the applicant’s request, saying the development would devalue the area and be incompatible with the rest of the neighborhood.

“We are a historic neighborhood,” she said. “One hundred percent of us are opposed to this zoning.” Sheffield added that the proposed commercial structure, at 200 feet wide and 630 feet long, would dwarf the neighboring dwellings and the closest commercial structure, a small Dollar General store.

At the crux of the case, Sheffield said, is a compromise the neighborhood made in 2005 to allow light development on the Penick Drive properties. Then, in 2012, the city adopted the East Riverside Corridor Regulating Plan that dismantled the 2005 agreement in favor of increasing density in the area.

“The compromise we did in 2005 was not adhered to,” she said. Sheffield added that the neighborhood did not know what zoning implications the East Riverside Corridor Regulating Plan would have.

“We wish we could just get what we agreed to in 2005,” Sheffield said. “It’s very emotional and stressful.”

Penick homeowner Linda Paulson said her street is 100 percent owner-occupied, and the residents all want to maintain the character of the small, unique neighborhood. Rezoning the property would compromise the integrity of the neighborhood and violate the neighborhood plan, she said.

Miranda Dodson, another Penick homeowner, said the residents of Penick Drive are paying a price for failing to understand the 2012 rezoning.

“We love our neighborhood. We love our neighbors. We’re willing to do whatever we can to fight for it,” Dodson said.

In his rebuttal, Thrower argued that the site plan was the result of several compromises with Penick Drive residents, including an agreement to lessen the size of the commercial structure and hide the alleyway with a line of trees.

Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza made a motion to deny the zoning change but noted that even without the change, the property would be developed, and the Penick Drive residents would not get everything they wanted.

Commissioner Jean Stevens seconded the motion, saying, “There’s a better compromise out there.” Commissioners James Nortey and Brian Roark and Chair Danette Chimenti voted in support of the motion.

Vice Chair Stephen Oliver voted in opposition, noting he was involved in creating the East Riverside Corridor Regulating Plan. “This is a vacant lot,” he said, adding that any development on the lot would change the character of the neighborhood.

Commissioners Richard Hatfield and Alfonso Hernandez also voted against the motion.

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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.

East Riverside Corridor Regulating Plan: According to the city website, "The East Riverside Corridor (ERC) Regulating Plan was adopted by City Council on May 9, 2013. The ERC Regulating Plan lays out the rules that will guide new development and redevelopment to help realize the vision of making East Riverside a more vibrant, functional and beautiful environment... (Its) regulations address the physical relationship between development and adjacent properties, streets, neighborhoods, and the natural environment in order to implement the vision of an urban mixed-use neighborhood that supports current and future transit options."

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