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Planning Commission delays action on new Crestview church redevelopment proposal

Friday, August 21, 2015 by Jack Craver

It’s Round 2 in the fight between Crestview neighborhood activists and developer David Kahn.

The neighborhood won the first round in May, when City Council declined to endorse Kahn’s request for a zoning change to build a 70,000-square-foot office complex and 10 apartment units on a property formerly occupied by the Korean United Presbyterian Church at 2000 Justin Lane. Round 2 kicked off last Tuesday, with Kahn before the Planning Commission again requesting a zoning change, this time to build a 35-unit apartment building.

The Crestview Neighborhood Planning Contact Team is still opposed to the change, however, saying it wants the property zoned for single-family use. After an hour-and-a-half of testimony from supporters and opponents of the project, the commission voted 7-4 to continue the discussion on the proposal at its next meeting on Aug. 25. Commissioners James Schissler, Jose Vella III, Fayez Kazi and Michael Wilson opposed delaying action on the motion.

In his presentation to the commission, Kahn suggested that neighbors opposed to his newest proposal were limiting opportunities for tenants in search of affordable housing.

“I don’t think Austin is just a city for owners, I think it’s also a city for renters,” he said. “Thirty units isn’t going to fix our housing shortage in Austin, but to do only eight or 10 houses like these guys want is also a disservice to our community.”

Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza objected to the suggestion that striving for more owner-occupied units was selfish or elitist, pointing out that Austin is already a majority-renter city.

“Most homes in Austin are owned by investors, not the people living in them,” she said. “So the fact that a neighborhood wants to increase home ownership opportunities isn’t necessarily discriminatory.”

Commissioner James Shieh also pressed Kahn, whose background has been in nonresidential development, on the tenants he was hoping to attract.

“What is your intent?” he asked. “You’ve got to have thought about that.”

Kahn didn’t give many specifics, saying that the project was targeting those who wanted to be within walking distance of city amenities. He suggested that most of the tenants would be in their 30s and 40s. He also deferred questions about the anticipated cost of the apartments for tenants, saying only that costs were rising for developers in the city.

In a previous meeting with city officials, cited by Commissioner Trinity White, Kahn had said that he expected units to range in size from 700 to 1,000 square feet and that he believed the market demanded prices of $1.50 to $2 per square foot. That suggests a monthly range from $1,050 to $1,400 for the smallest units and $1,500 to $2,000 for the largest ones.

Larry Ouellette, facilitator for the neighborhood contact team, reiterated the group’s willingness to support rezoning the land from Single Family-3 to Single Family-4B, the designation for condominiums, which Ouellette said would be “an appropriate transition from the insanity of Burnet Road to the relative tranquility of our neighborhood.” The Multi-Family-3 designation Kahn is seeking would “disrupt that transition,” said Ouellette.

Other Crestview neighbors spoke in support of the project. Matthew Armstrong, a recent president of the Crestview Neighborhood Association, said the apartment building would bring much-needed housing diversity to the area. He described it as a way to offer access to good public schools to those who couldn’t afford to buy a house in the neighborhood.

Another neighborhood resident, Tedd Holladay, said he and others had gotten Kahn to commit to building sidewalks on the property, which currently lacks them, as well as to contribute $15,000 to help the neighborhood construct more sidewalks. Holladay also contended that the development would reduce impervious cover in an area that experienced bad floods recently.

Commissioner Patricia Seeger said she could support zoning the property for MF-1, which is a designation for less dense apartment buildings. Such a zoning change would be a more appropriate “transition” between a quiet neighborhood of family homes and a bustling commercial district.

“I wonder if we could zone it for MF-2 or MF-3 but limit the number of units,” added Commissioner Tom Nuckols, also in search of middle ground.

Zaragoza responded that if affordability was the goal of a multifamily development, it made little sense to limit the number of units, thus driving up the cost the developers would have to charge for each apartment.

Hoping for a compromise, commissioners urged the sides to meet again before the next meeting to find a mutually agreeable solution. While both Ouellette and Ron Thrower, the agent representing Kahn, said they would be happy to talk over the plans again, neither hinted at any possible concessions.

Vella, who voted against delaying action, told the Austin Monitor afterward that he saw little evidence that a compromise was possible.

“It doesn’t seem like there’s going to be a meeting of the minds,” he said.

This story has been corrected.

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