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Korean church rezoning moves at snail’s pace

Tuesday, December 1, 2015 by Jo Clifton

The struggle persists over the rezoning of the former site of the Korean United Presbyterian Church on Justin Lane. Neighbors who see the possibility of increased traffic and danger to pedestrians continue to clash with those who see the possibility of new sidewalks along with new neighbors. City Council approved Multifamily Residence-3 (MF-3) zoning on a vote of 9-2 at its Nov. 12 meeting but only on second reading.

The land is currently a parking lot, but with the new zoning, developer David Kahn hopes to build a three-story apartment building with a maximum of 24 units. Under the Planning Commission recommendation, at least half of those units must be at least two-bedroom. In addition, the developer must include on-site parking for all of the units.

Anyone hoping for a quick resolution to this case and a slight addition to the city’s housing stock would have been disappointed since it will not come back to Council before Feb. 11, according to city staff.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Member Ora Houston voted against the zoning change, with the rest of Council in favor. Since there is a valid petition on the site, Kahn will need all of the nine votes he received last month on third reading, but there is no guarantee that one or more Council members won’t change their minds. The member under the most pressure is Leslie Pool, whose district includes the site.

One set of neighbors has signed a valid petition, and signers include the owners of a condominium complex that in itself includes the 20 percent of land required for a valid petition. That petition states that those neighbors are opposed to anything more intense than Multifamily Residence-1 (MF-1) zoning. Another set of neighbors has reached an agreement with the developer and has signed a letter in support of the MF-3 zoning.

The second group includes neighbor Tedd Holladay, who explained that Kahn has agreed to donate $15,000 to the city’s Neighborhood Partnering Program to help pay for area sidewalks. Under the program, the neighborhood must raise additional funds, which may include sweat equity. In addition, Kahn has agreed to construct a sidewalk along the property frontage rather than paying a fee-in-lieu, according to city records.

Holladay said the neighborhood is required to match 30 percent of the cost of the project, or about $51,000. “Minus the $15,000 we would get from the developer, that would leave the neighborhood with $36,000 that could be matched by cash donations, in-kind services or volunteer hours that the city counts at about $23 per hour,” he said.

Marsha Brauen, one of the neighbors opposing the project, told Council that her home is about two blocks from the property proposed for the apartment complex. “There are no sidewalks in the area, so schoolchildren and other pedestrians must walk in streets,” she said. “The current threat to pedestrians is great. Greater traffic will only enhance this threat.” Brauen also said that she was worried about how the fire department would get to a nursing home in the area with the additional traffic and parking that the apartments would generate.

Holladay said, “I think infill development like this is important, and I think it’s important to have it in the central city,” where people can walk and ride the bus. “I love my neighborhood and I want to share it with other people,” he added.

The site’s surface parking lot has 95 percent impervious cover. Ron Thrower, who represents the developer, said that if his client is allowed to develop the apartment complex as proposed, the impervious cover would be lowered to 65 percent.

Nevertheless, Pool urged Kahn and Thrower to lower the amount of impervious cover. In addition, she said she would like to have more conversations with the applicant and the neighbors on the number of units and the possibility that some of them could be considered “affordable,” as they are not currently.

Holladay told the Austin Monitor via email, “My Council Member, (Leslie Pool) has been so concerned about impervious cover in our area: The current location has close to 100% impervious cover. Redeveloping this property would be a chance to add housing in Central Austin right next to an 803 bus stop while reducing impervious cover. If this project gets killed and the abandoned lot just sits there for several years, it would be a bad thing for our neighborhood.”

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