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Planning Commission OKs condo development

Tuesday, January 19, 2016 by Jack Craver

Despite concerns raised by neighbors, including a telephone psychic who worried that the noise from nearby construction could harm her business, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval last week of a zoning change to facilitate the construction of six single-family residences at 2106 Allwood Drive and 2013 Bluebonnet Lane.

Next-door neighbor Dede Spontak sold the land to River City Homes LLC. She said that she chose a buyer who she trusted would “responsibly develop” the property. In particular, she said, she wanted a development that would preserve the trees and shrubbery that she and her partner had planted over the past two decades, which have provided a habitat for songbirds.

“I went through several potential buyers from California and New Jersey, and none of them had any regard for the trees or the songbirds that I wanted to be able to preserve the green space for,” Spontak said.

Peter Kehle, president of River City Homes, told the commission that he was seeking to build only seven units on the parcel even though the zoning change he was requesting – from Single Family-3 (SF-3) to Single Family-6 (SF-6) – allows for up to 12 units. He thus agreed to a conditional overlay capping the number of units at seven – Spontak’s existing house and six new ones – which he argued meant that the project would be in line with the character of the surrounding neighborhood, currently zoned for moderate-density single- and multifamily residences (SF-3 and MF-3).

“We’re really not talking about a dense development,” said Kehle.

Lorraine Atherton, speaking on behalf of the Zilker Neighborhood Association zoning committee, objected to the lack of street access to the property. She proposed that Allwood Drive, a tiny dead-end street that straddles nearby Blue Crest Drive, be extended north through the property to connect with Hether Street.

“The absence of a street or alley leaves several large but narrow lots with little or no access to city services such as storm sewers or fire protection,” she said.

Atherton urged the commission to either mandate the extension of Allwood Drive or limit the development to four additional units, rather than six.

Kehle responded that his proposed project complied with all existing code, including fire, and that most of the neighbors in the area have voiced support for it.

Commissioners appeared largely satisfied with Kehle’s reasoning. Commissioner Tom Nuckols, addressing previously cited concerns about flooding, asked whether Kehle would be willing to accept a condition that he not seek a waiver from on-site water detention requirements. Kehle said he would agree to that condition. He also agreed to construct a sidewalk connecting Allwood Drive and Bluebonnet Lane.

“I don’t really feel there’s a need to lower the number of units,” said Nuckols, who said the project would provide attractive homes for families because of its proximity to Zilker Park. “Code clearly allows this many units to be served by a joint-use driveway, so I don’t feel there’s a need for a public street.”

Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza also voiced appreciation for the developers’ arguments for the project, or rather, the arguments they chose not to put forth. “I appreciate that no one tonight said that you were doing this for affordability,” she said to Kehle. “I just want to thank you for that.”

But there was an additional concern voiced about the project from Stefanie Fix, who lives next door to the affected property. Although not necessarily opposed to the project, Fix said she was worried that the noise caused by construction could disrupt her livelihood, as she works from home.

“What is it you do for a living?” asked Nuckols.

“Oh, I was so afraid you were going to ask that,” replied Fix. “You guys ready? I’m a telephone psychic.”

Kehle later told the commission that he anticipated about three to four months of “noisy construction” as a result of the project.

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