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Council OKs mixed-use zoning on E. Fifth St.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015 by Jo Clifton

With the blessing of the neighborhood contact team, city staff and the Planning Commission, City Council unanimously approved a request for mixed-use zoning in East Austin last week, despite a valid petition from some neighbors.

The property in question is located at 2901 East Fifth St. Though city staff describes East Fifth Street as primarily a commercial corridor, David Reed and Heather Falvo, who live at 2900 East Fourth St., sent a letter to Council saying they are opposed to any zoning other than residential.

In addition to being a zoning case, the conversation revealed rifts between some neighborhood associations and the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood planning contact team.

There is also obvious tension between the chair of the neighborhood contact team, Daniel Llanes, and Council Member Pio Renteria. Llanes was a strong supporter of Renteria’s opponent in the runoff election for the District 3 seat — Renteria’s sister, Susana Almanza. Llanes wrote a letter saying the contact team was in favor of the change, and he also told Council in person that the group supports Lourdes Godoy, the property’s agent at the hearing and a longtime East Austin resident.

Although he voted in favor of the zoning change, Renteria said his concern was exposing the single-family residents to an unknown future.

“I have a lot of questions because I asked for the minutes there (of the contact team meeting) and when these changes happened, and I haven’t been able to get any kind of response or information of what actually happened and when,” said Renteria.

Mayor Steve Adler also expressed concerns about how the neighborhood contact team is conducting its business. Adler said, “As we look at (the) neighborhood groups and contact team that are giving input, which is very important to be able to get that input; it’s real important for the contact team in terms of their reliability and in terms of their standing, so that all of the people in the community believe and trust that the contact team has been open and available to the community.

“So it’s important that (the) contact team notice their meetings or give minutes and go out of their way to be inclusionary with respect to the community, because in the long run that will help with credibility.”

Llanes responded, “We are absolutely inclusive.”

Renteria then pointed out that the neighborhood contact team had taken an entirely different position on a property at Second Street and Broadway, resisting office zoning and advocating for more residential zoning.

In addition, Renteria said people in the Holly Neighborhood Coalition and Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Association had told him that the contact team was not meeting in a public place and that they had felt hostility from members of the team.

Renteria added, “And when a contact team like that comes to me and then says, ‘Hey, our contact team supports this,’ I question it because I’ve gone and talked to you people. And I’ve talked to Daniel and told him this is not the way to run a contact team.”

Llanes shouted from the audience, “You and I have not had a conversation about the contact team.”

Adler told Llanes that conversations would need to happen outside the zoning forum.

The case will return to Council in August on the next zoning agenda.

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