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New co-op wrangles with parking at BoA

Monday, May 16, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Could a brand-new co-op be on the way in the University Neighborhood Overlay? Probably, but there are some parking issues to clear up before the project can move forward.

Though some Board of Adjustment members seemed wary of the request for further reductions in parking for a new West Campus co-op, they ultimately voted unanimously to postpone the case to their June meeting in order to allow for more time to compromise.

Board Member Rahm McDaniel said it was hard for him to look at the project and classify it as a “commercial structure.” He also took issue with some of his colleagues who seemed disinclined to recommend the variance.

“I’m disappointed in this commission, I have to say,” said McDaniel. “Again and again the code exerts preference for cars over people. I think we see that over and over again. I think we can all think of cases that we’ve seen in the last few years where, specifically, the creation of parking has led to the creation of less affordable units and more general rate market units.”

Agent Mike McHone was representing the University of Texas Inter-Cooperative Council, which has been in operation for over 70 years but is hoping to build its first co-op at 915 West 22nd St. He explained that the co-ops run by the group have been in older, existing homes that are typically large, with “multiple bedrooms, almost no parking, common dining and shared labor to reduce costs.”

Now, the nonprofit would like to build a co-op on a 6,900-square-foot lot within the University Neighborhood Overlay, using some of the affordable housing trust fund money collected in the overlay. To do that, though, members are asking to reduce the number of required parking spaces.

McHone said that they can provide four tandem parking spaces, though six are required, and are asking for a waiver from providing the other two. He explained that the amount of parking would be consistent with other area co-op parking, noting that the proposed home will have ample bike parking, is located on a shuttle route, is five blocks from the university and would be on a very small lot.

The project already has to provide only 40 percent of the normally required parking spaces because it will contain affordable housing.

President of the Austin Neighborhoods Council Mary Ingle told the board that the Central Austin Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee had voted not to support the variance. She explained that the planned parking “was not sufficient for a commercial building of this size.” She further pointed out that because the building was being built on a “blank slate,” something could be done with the design to accommodate the code.

“This building will have 28 bedrooms with double occupancy. It could have over 50 residents and a commercial kitchen. Even if all the residents will not have vehicles of their own on the site, the other space is not sufficient to service the building as family members, guests of residents, service trucks, delivery vehicles … will all be competing for that one space,” said Ingle. “The location would be a bad choice for no parking.”

Board Member Michael Von Ohlen said that he had to agree about the project’s blank slate, despite supporting the project in general. “I think you could probably design this in a manner where you could get your parking, or at least only need one (parking space waived).”

McHone said there was a “perceived parking problem in West Campus” but that, in 10 years, it would probably be a moot point due to driverless cars.

Board Member Don Leighton-Burwell expressed that this future reality was not yet here.

“While I also support the ideal of a carless future, I didn’t see that driving downtown tonight,” said Leighton-Burwell. “We’re still living in Texas.”

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