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HEB asks commission to help neighbors

Tuesday, September 22, 2015 by Jack Craver

One after another, the neighbors emphasized that they were not anti-HEB. But in the midst of a pronounced spike in traffic fatalities throughout the city, Park Ridge neighborhood residents came to voice their concerns at a Tuesday meeting of the Zoning and Platting Commission about the increase in traffic that a new grocery store at the corner of South Congress Avenue and Slaughter Lane would bring.

“I love HEB, I am there way more often than I should be and we look forward to having them as a neighbor,” said Michelle McCurdy, a Park Ridge neighborhood resident. “My concern is that I don’t relish the traffic that’s going to come with this development.”

Other neighbors complained about the lack of sidewalks on adjacent Ralph Ablanedo Drive, voicing concerns about children who walk to school along the side of the street.

HEB came to the meeting equipped with a series of offers it argued should assuage some of the neighbors’ concerns. First, it proposed to fund the construction of a $350,000 traffic light at the intersection of South Congress and the retail lot’s driveway. Second, it said it was willing to extend a sidewalk to the north end of an adjacent vacant 5-acre tract, which the company also owns.

The commission voted unanimously to recommend a Conditional Use Permit for the chain to build a new 139,000-square-foot store, along with the signalized intersection and the sidewalk extensions.

But many of the neighbors who came to the meeting – most not having registered opposed to the project – urged the commission to do more to improve safety in the neighborhood. In particular, some asked whether the city could fund an additional sidewalk on Ralph Ablanedo Drive by using the $165,000 that HEB is obligated to pay the city as a result of the project. Developers make such “pro rata” payments to account for the infrastructural improvements that the increased traffic generated by their developments demand.

Richard Suttle, representing HEB, emphasized that the company wanted the neighbors’ wishes fulfilled. He urged commissioners to listen to the complaints of area neighbors.

“We came here tonight to try to get you guys to take our other $165,000 to do the sidewalks,” Suttle said. “We’re going to help press for the Ralph Ablanedo sidewalk.”

Commissioners discussed the idea of diverting the money but were instructed by city staff that they were not able to address the spending of the pro rata money as part of the Conditional Use Permit. A number of commissioners nevertheless expressed an interest in exploring whether the city would be able to direct money from the city’s $12.5 million pro rata fund toward sidewalks, in this case as well as in future cases.

“We try to fix something that we see and cannot do it through the mechanism before us tonight, so we’ve got to find a mechanism or build a mechanism through our ordinances,” said Vice Chair Jackie Goodman.

“The sidewalk would be a good use, especially if the money could be spent now, rather than waiting a decade,” Chair Gabriel Rojas later told the Austin Monitor.

The commission asked staff to arrange a briefing on the pro rata fund with the Transportation Department in the future.

HEB” by Enoch Lai at the English language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

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