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Mt. Zion rezoning finally moves on to Council

Friday, November 6, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

It may have taken the most circuitous route imaginable to get there, but the the Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church rezoning case is moving on to City Council after bouncing around the Planning Commission since June.

This time, the church had the support of the neighborhood in seeking a zoning change from General Office (GO) and Single Family-3 (SF-3) zoning to Multifamily-4 (MF-4) zoning with Multifamily-1 (MF-1) uses at 1801 and 1809 Pennsylvania Ave. and 1170 Chicon St. The church is not seeking an upzoning for the tract at 1800 Pennsylvania Ave., which will remain SF-3.

Mt. Zion hopes the change will help it relocate and sell its East Austin property, which hasn’t been easy.

Henry Gilmore, representing the church, explained that the new request was part of “an alternative way forward” agreed upon by the church and the Kealing Neighborhood Association instead of the church’s initial request – to simply terminate a restrictive covenant that limited the property to religious use only.

Council will deliberate the zoning and FLUM change along with the restrictive covenant termination. Gilmore explained that the compromise will ensure that the entire property is developed as residential.

“This has been a very long and expensive process for the church,” said Gilmore, who stressed that the church had “compromised significantly” by agreeing not to upzone the northern tract and to downzone the southern tract and limit the uses even further than that new zoning would otherwise allow.

“Is it everything the neighborhood is asking for? No. But it’s not everything the church would have liked to have seen either,” said Gilmore. “But in our opinion, it represents a good and significant compromise, and it achieves the neighborhood’s overall goal.”

Kealing Neighborhood Association President Clifton Van Dyke said he was “thrilled” to speak in support of the new zoning proposal, which he said “represents several months of compromise between Kealing and the property owner, Greater Mt. Zion.” He also thanked the Planning Commission for its help.

“Your recommendations and encouragement put us on a path towards a favorable outcome for all,” said Van Dyke. He did ask that the commission consider prohibiting curb cuts along Pennsylvania Avenue to promote public safety in the school zone and help direct traffic away from the street.

Howard Lazarus, who is director of the Public Works Department and an ex officio member of the commission, advised against restricting curb cuts on Pennsylvania Avenue. He made the point that, without knowing what was going in and what would be developed in the area in the future, it was hard to say what was appropriate for the site.

Though commissioners considered the request, they ultimately opted not to recommend the curb cut restriction. They did, however, approve the zoning request, adding a provision that restricted the first 25 feet closest to Pennsylvania Avenue to two stories. That motion passed 9-1, with Commissioner Michael Wilson voting in opposition. Commissioner Patricia Seeger was absent for the vote.

Zoning map courtesy of the city of Austin. 

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