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Zoning compromise advances Boys & Girls Club

Friday, April 8, 2016 by Caleb Pritchard

Controversial plans for an after-school facility that would serve underprivileged children moved one step forward at City Council on Thursday night.

With a unanimous vote on the dais, Council approved on first reading a rezoning that would allow the Boys & Girls Club of Austin to build a flagship facility in Northeast Austin.

The nonprofit organization is looking to plant the complex on 10 acres at 4717 Turner Lane, although the finished project would actually open up to the U.S. Highway 183 frontage road just south of Manor Road.

The plan has drawn opposition from the University Hills Neighborhood Association, whose members have thrown a potpourri of arguments against it, including traffic concerns and the inviolability of the neighborhood plan as devised by the neighborhood’s contact team.

Roughly half of the property as it is now is zoned for town homes and condos, while the other half is zoned for light commercial operations such as small offices or a convenience store.

Both city staff and the Planning Commission had recommended changing the zoning to Community Commercial (GR), which by itself would allow a much broader range of uses, including hotels, automotive repair shops and trade schools.

Lynn Marshall, vice chair of the University Hills Neighborhood Plan contact team, suggested to Council on Thursday night that the pending deal between the site’s current owner, Jimmy Nassour, and the Boys & Girls Club could fall through after the change in zoning is approved.

“What will happen if the Boys & Girls Club of Austin cannot raise the money or if they change their plans? Whoever gets the property will have the increased zoning and entitlements,” Marshall said.

Terrell Gates, chairman of the Boys & Girls Club of Austin, spoke after Marshall and dismissed her concerns. “This property is under contract,” he told Council. “If you guys see it in your wisdom to support this, we will be closing on this property in 30 days.”

After more than an hour of discussion and public testimony that was divided by a 90-minute break for dinner, Council Member Ora Houston offered a proposal that tweaked the staff and Planning Commission recommendation.

Houston proposed to change both halves of the property to Community Commercial while at the same time maintaining the integrity of the neighborhood plan by concurrently keeping the residential zoning in place on the side currently zoned for it.

The plan would also severely limit the uses that would be allowed under the Community Commercial designation. Before Council voted on Houston’s motion, the District 1 representative delivered a lengthy monologue in which she held up neighborhood planning as the community’s bulwark against outside interests.

Once a representative for the Boys & Girls Club signaled that his organization was content with the proposal, Mayor Steve Adler took a vote, and the item was approved unanimously on first reading.

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