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ZAP OKs medical offices in South Austin

Tuesday, February 2, 2016 by Jack Craver

Competing concerns over facilitating the construction of a medical office and maintaining the character of a quiet area led to a compromise among members of the Zoning and Platting Commission on Jan. 19. The panel voted to recommend rezoning a 1-acre plot of land at 8701 Manchaca Road in South Austin, but attached conditions to the recommendation to prevent the land from being used for more intense commercial development in the future.

The commission voted to approve city staff’s recommendation that the land be designated as Community Commercial (GR), which would allow the applicant, Sean Cummings of KC 5 Dittmar LLC, to build a three-story medical office building. The building, which the applicant estimated will be about 45 feet tall, likely would have been prohibited by a previous conditional overlay on the property, which limited buildings to a maximum height of 35 feet.

But the commission also voted to attach a new conditional overlay (CO) to the parcel prohibiting all nonmedical uses that are typically authorized by GR zoning, such as service stations, car dealerships, hotels and very large retail spaces. The CO will also limit buildings on the property to a maximum height of 50 feet.

The compromise was reached after Commissioner Thomas Weber voiced concerns about the proposed zoning change ushering in development that was “too intense” for the neighborhood.

“It seems like it opens it up more broadly to a lot of uses that I don’t think are terribly compatible around those corners,” Weber said. “I know that there’s a Valero across the street, and I’d hate to think that, since there’s a Valero and it’s GR, that we could have GR on the other side – it just almost seems like tumbling dominoes or something like that.”

Rodney Bennett, a representative for the applicant, noted that he was seeking a zoning change only for the portion of the land that will include the development’s largest building. The rest of the 108-acre tract of land, part of which will include two affiliated medical office buildings, will remain under the more restrictive zoning.

Commissioner Susan Harris, in search of a deal, asked Bennett if he would be willing to agree to bar some of the “more obnoxious uses” from the property. “Definitely,” he said, noting that he was seeking only the office itself and potentially a small deli to serve the office workers.

Harris said she did not believe that the development would necessarily lead to major commercial development, because the Texas Department of Transportation had indicated that it will not allow the site access to Manchaca Road, which it maintains. Instead, the site will only be accessed from West Dittmar Road.

“You’re not going to have very successful retail uses, in that location,” she predicted.

Weber reconsidered his position. “You make some good points,” he said to his colleague.

After some head-scratching on the dais about what type of restrictions to put on the property, Bennett suggested the commission approve the GR zoning but attach a CO that would allow only uses authorized by the previous LR zoning – except, of course, for medical office.

Commission Chair Gabriel Rojas voted for the compromise but told the commission that he would prefer not to restrict the property from future uses that might provide healthy food to an increasingly dense population in the surrounding area.

“I didn’t want to completely zone out all of the GR uses, so that a neighborhood grocer could locate on the bottom floor or something,” Rojas later told the Austin Monitor. But he was happy to see – upon second review of the city’s zoning guide – that LR zoning does allow food sales, although it limits retail space to a maximum of 5,000 square feet.

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