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Northwest PUD project remains stalled

Thursday, April 9, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

Though developers introduced it last summer, the Austin Oaks Planned Unit Development continues to linger among the city’s boards and commissions as the neighborhood and developers work on hammering out some kind of compromise.

Developer Spire Realty Group LP has already made some changes to the initial proposal for the 32 acres located on the southwest corner of Spicewood Springs Road and MoPac Boulevard. PUD zoning would allow the developer to move forward with its plans, which include 850,000 square feet of office space and about 100,000 square feet of retail space.

In November, Spire Realty Group offered to reduce the height of the tallest building from 225 feet to 200 feet and reduce the number of apartments to 300 units. The developer has also offered to make improvements to and create a fund for nearby Doss Elementary. However, with the plan stalled, all of those compromises remain theoretical.

From the beginning, the planned unit development has faced criticism. At Tuesday’s Zoning and Platting Commission meeting, it was clear that opposition has helped to slow the development process, as an update on the project boiled down to “we are waiting to hear from the neighborhood.”

Drenner Group’s Amanda Swor spoke on behalf of the developer and said that they were waiting to hear back from the Northwest Austin Civic Association, and would be happy to return with an update at the commission’s May 5 meeting.

“We are at the point where we are ready to move forward as soon as we hear the comments from the neighbors,” said Swor. “We didn’t think it was fair to turn something in until we heard from the neighbors.”

Ann Denkler, the former zoning chair of NWACA, explained that she had resigned from that position in order to work with a group called No More PUDs. She told the commission that an earlier survey of 683 residents showed that 86 percent of the residents opposed the PUD, and she did not expect the new survey to be much different.

“There is no one in negotiation with the applicant,” said Denkler. She said that the Balcones Civic Association planned to survey its neighborhood after an update, and Allandale was still in discussion about its plans.

A clearly frustrated Commissioner Rahm McDaniel encouraged everyone to talk to each other and “get it together” in advance of the next meeting on the PUD.

McDaniel said that at that meeting, he did not want to hear that there had been no negotiation, “because then everyone involved — especially the parties in the negotiation — will have wasted the public’s time and energy and money and everything else.”

“In this particular case, there’s so much feedback coming from so many different directions that it’s difficult to tell (what is going on),” McDaniel continued. “Because one group says, ‘We’re talking to the Drenner Group,’ and another group says, ‘No, no, no. There is no negotiation taking place.’”

Tori Haase, with the city’s Planning and Zoning Department, updated the commission on the project and explained staff’s position.

“We have just been in a holding pattern until we get an official update from the applicant,” said Haase. “A lot of the conversations have been happening between the applicant and the neighborhood, and staff has been waiting to see the result of those conversations.”

Though developers received an extension on the PUD’s site plan, it will expire if the Zoning and Platting Commission does not take action before mid-June.

This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that the PUD in question is not a site plan, that it’s a zoning case, and will not expire so long as it is active.

Image courtesy of the City of Austin website.


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