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After Austin Oaks charrette, strong divisions remain

Thursday, February 25, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Despite some hope that a charrette process would lead to smooth(er) sailing for the Austin Oaks planned unit development, conflict persists.

In late January, developers and neighborhood representatives spent five days working on the details of the PUD, which is proposed for the southwest corner of MoPac Expressway and Spicewood Springs Road. The idea was to reach some kind of consensus about the development, but that seems not to have happened.

Instead, a “letter of no confidence” was signed by 12 of the 20 members of the working group, representing all of its members not in the Northwest Austin Civic Association (known as NWACA). Representatives from the Balcones Civic Association, the Allandale Neighborhood Association, the Williamsburg-Charleston Place HOA, the North Shoal Creek Neighborhood Association and Northwest Austin Neighbors all signed.

NWACA President Chris Hajdu explained that the results of the charrette weren’t perfect, but his neighborhood, which accounted for 79 percent of the people participating in the charrette, didn’t agree with the letter. The PUD is in the Northwest Austin Civic Association’s neighborhood, which passed a resolution endorsing the process and outcome of the charrette.

“We don’t agree with (the letter). We had nothing to do with drafting it. … We felt really slighted by this,” said Hajdu. “Really, by not reaching out to us – and only one of our members at the last second – to sign it, it just feels like it was done a little maliciously. … It makes us look bad, and I think they are trying to scare us. I think it’s just posturing.”

Hajdu explained that NWACA was “100 percent against” the PUD that was first proposed by developers, and the goal of the charrette was to bring everyone together to come up with something better. He said that was, in large part, accomplished, but “when it didn’t go the way some people wanted, it kind of got negative towards the end.”

“I think with all the involvement of all the people and the time and the money that went into this, to – at the very end – decide you are unhappy is kind of … a childish thing,” said Hajdu.

The letter, on the other hand, raises the question of “integrity problems” with the charrette process, saying that the developers’ plan that came out of the charrette was not, in fact, a consensus plan.

According to the letter, “54% of the participants in the entire process attended only a single meeting. Most significantly, there was no advance notice to the general public that a deciding vote would be taken on the fourth night of the Charrette. On the fifth day of the Charrette there was no facilitator present; only a repeat delivery of the marketing presentation.”

Hajdu described the charrette process and explained that each day there would be work on the design and what it included. He disagreed with the characterization of the process in the letter.

“We think the process of bringing everyone together was a good one, and we stand by the results. And the results are basically a plan that has to go through the process at the city,” said Hajdu. “At this point we understand not everyone is going to be 100 percent good with the plan. … At least now the plan is not one that (Austin Oaks owner Spire Realty Group LP) came up with on their own.”

The group also elaborates on its dissatisfaction with limits on building heights, lack of mass transit planning, and traffic and parking impacts and expresses concerns about the proposed open space and the impact of the development on 19 of the 71 heritage trees on site and 23 protected trees, among other things.

Madelon Highsmith, who is a member of the Allandale Neighborhood Association, spoke with the Austin Monitor on Wednesday.

“The people in the neighborhood all around the four corners are furious. Because it’s such a joke. The whole process is just an exercise in how to make it look polite and then cram down the (throats) of the citizens of Austin, no matter where you live … that this is coming,” said Highsmith. “The worry is the precedent this will set for all along MoPac. Get ready to never be able to drive down that road.”

Attorney Michael Whellan, who represents Spire, released the following statement about the letter:

“We are delighted that the largest neighborhood association most directly impacted by the development has strongly supported the Preferred Plan outcome from the charrette. The NWACA Board passed a strong resolution of support and we are engaging the charrette engineers to refine the Preferred Plan. We applaud NWACA on working so hard to implement the charrette, which allowed the community to provide feedback on the redevelopment of Austin Oaks, and we will continue to work with all surrounding neighborhood groups to ensure that they continue to be part of a positive, productive process.”

Though the PUD was originally scheduled to go to the Zoning and Platting Commission on March 1, Highsmith told the Monitor that it has now been pushed back to March 15.

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Austin Oaks charrette concept map found on

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