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Austin Oaks PUD saga continues

Thursday, July 9, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

It has been almost a year since developer Twelve Lakes LLC requested a zoning change for the proposed Austin Oaks Planned Unit Development, and it will likely be more than two months before the city is able to come to a decision on the issue.

On Tuesday, residents asked that Zoning and Platting Commissioners recommend that City Council deny the request. However, commissioners voted for postponement until Sept. 15 on the grounds that city code requirements prevented them from making a recommendation prior to the Environmental Board.

“We’re as tired of waiting as you are,” said Vice Chair Jackie Goodman, addressing neighborhood representatives in the audience. “I was ready to go last August, and here we are, and we still haven’t seen anything. The PUD zoning is to allow a superior development, and oftentimes the development that comes out of that is truly superior. Here, I don’t know because we have not seen anything, month after month after month.

“Although we are constrained by technical issues of procedure here, it’s not that we’re trying to stall you; it’s that we’re doing as much as we can at any given moment,” Goodman continued. “But sooner or later, all good things come to an end, and there will be a decision made.”

The request is to rezone 31.37 acres of land at the southwest corner of MoPac Expressway and Spicewood Springs Road to PUD zoning. That designation allows the city to grant Land Development Code exemptions to a developer in exchange for enhancements that would make a development “superior” to others.

After the Environmental Board and ZAP make recommendations, the request will go to Council for a final decision. The applicant originally submitted the request on July 16, 2014.

Currently an office park, the land would potentially be transformed into a mixed-use development with 277 residential units along with space for restaurants, offices and civic or pedestrian uses. The development would also feature 4.1 acres of privately maintained parkland and buildings as tall as 120 feet.

“We’re kind of dealing in a vacuum now,” said Chair Gabriel Rojas. “On the one hand, we need to put people here, but on the other hand, I can understand the impacts that you might feel, for instance, from transportation and schools.”

Rojas went on to address staff and the applicant. “I just please ask that when you come to us in September, that we have all the tools necessary to make a good decision,” he said.

Jerry Rusthoven of the Planning and Zoning Department pointed out that staff has not yet made a recommendation on the request, but he said he believes it will have made one by the time ZAP hears the issue again. Staff, he said, is still working out issues with the applicant related to density, traffic and the environment.

Tori Haase, who is handling the case for the Planning and Zoning Department, told the Austin Monitor on Wednesday that staff did not receive a response to its original comments until April 30. “They took quite some time to get us their first update,” she said, adding that the application will likely have to provide at least one more update to staff.

Idee Kwak, who lives near the site of the proposed development, said she is concerned that continued delays will wear on residents who oppose it. She, along with dozens of other members of the public, submitted comments opposing the rezoning.

Haase said the majority of comments that staff has received are in opposition to the development, though there are a few in support.

Stephen Drenner of the Drenner Group, which represents the applicant, said that he does not intend to request a postponement beyond that set for the next hearing. “I would intend to stick with Sept. 15,” he said.

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