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Burnet Road case limps through second reading

Friday, April 17, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

With two months more experience under their belts, City Council took up its first zoning case for a second time. Though the results were nearly identical to the outcome in February, Council will take up the Burnet Road rezoning for a third time next week.

The developer, C.J. Sackman of Sackman Enterprises, is asking for a change to MF-6 multifamily zoning from the current General Commercial Services (CS) zoning at 8528 Burnet Road. He has agreed to conditions that limit the height of the building to 60 feet, which is what is allowed under the current zoning. He also agreed to limit the number of units to 225, and the floor-to-area ratio to 2:1, which translates to about 244,000 square feet.

On Thursday, Council members voted to approve MF-6 zoning on second reading only, and the case will return to Council for a third reading next week. Council members voted 7-4, exactly the same as the first reading in February. Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Members Ora Houston, Kitchen and Leslie Pool voted in opposition.

A vote to approve the zoning on all three readings failed.

Council Member Delia Garza struggled to understand why they were not approving the zoning on all three readings, saying, “I feel we had the same conversation the first time, and everybody said we were going to come together and facilitate and get an agreement, and it hasn’t happened.”

“We’re constantly hearing about these projects being delayed and delayed, whether it be from the permitting process or decisions that this Council makes,” said Garza.

Sackman drove home that point. He explained that the convoluted zoning case had already taken its toll on the amount of affordable housing he was able to offer.

“Lower density and more-sustainable affordability, in the product type that is being demanded, do not coexist. For eight months, I have been appeasing City Council and the neighborhood by lowering density, and now we are at a point where the 91 units that I wanted to provide as affordable are down to 34,” said Sackman.

Sackman explained that his intention coming in to the process was to provide more sustainable affordability, but the recommendations from Council had “drastically decreased” his ability to do just that. He said that he had incurred civil engineer costs and architect costs while getting requested information to Council, and combined with the fact that the property is only his under contract, had incurred “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in costs already.

“We are on the brink. It’s not 34 affordable units or 50. It’s 34 or zero — that’s where we are right now,” said Sackman. “I’m looking to benefit this neighborhood. But I do not know if under the current concessions that I have made in the last eight months, if going and waiting until third reading will allow this project to exist.”

Under the current proposition, the development will be capped at 225 units, of those, 15 percent are proposed to be SMART housing at 80 percent Median Family Income for 10 years.

Throughout the discussion, Council members struggled with the fact that they could not request affordable housing and they could not suggest that additional affordable housing would make them more likely to approve the zoning change. To do so would be inclusionary zoning, which is prohibited under state law.

Though Pool pushed to approve MF-5 zoning on second reading, her motion failed, with Mayor Steve Adler, Tovo, Pool, Kitchen, and Houston voting in favor. The project is in Pool’s district -District 7 — and she said she was offering the less-intense zoning “in the spirit of cooperative development” and in the hopes it would help foster compromise between the developer and the neighborhood. Pool offered to facilitate a sit-down meeting between the two groups.

Neighbors opposed to the project have complained about its density and the potential for increased traffic in an area that is already congested.


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