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Shoal Creek PUD remains in limbo for now

Monday, June 13, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Discussion surrounding the Grove at Shoal Creek Planned Unit Development continues to dominate some of the city’s boards and commissions. Last week, the Zoning and Platting Commission illustrated that point by taking an hour to postpone the case.

Commissioners voted unanimously to postpone the case until June 21 with “no further delay.” Staff had requested a postponement to that date in order to allow the city’s Transportation Department to work on “a few loose ends.”

Typically, a request from city staff for extra time isn’t controversial. But the continued delays in this case caused some consternation on the dais.

“I just abhor postponements,” said Commissioner Susan Harris. “I’m just curious, after a year of looking at this project, how, at the last minute, a transportation delay has arisen?”

Jerry Rusthoven of the Planning and Development Review Department was given the unenviable task of explaining the Transportation Department’s delay to the commission.

Rusthoven said the main holdup was a transportation phasing plan that will lay out improvements that need to be made. He explained that, typically, this was not something that would be done before it went to commissions for recommendations.

“In this case, however, there is kind of a microscope on the case, if you will. A lot of people are wanting everything to be finalized,” he said.

Commissioner Ann Denkler said that she was really glad the case would be postponed in order to allow for a more thorough presentation to the community.

However, if the Zoning and Platting Commission were to make its recommendation, the case would move on to City Council regardless of whether the Environmental Commission has yet weighed in. Rusthoven explained that the code requires the PUD to be heard by that commission but does not require a vote. That requirement, he said, was fulfilled by the six-hour hearing that already took place.

“It might be legal to hear the case, but it is not the right thing to do,” said Commissioner Betsy Greenberg. “Maybe at 1 in the morning they wanted to postpone — and who can blame them?”

Sara Speights, who is the president of Bull Creek Road Coalition, spoke in favor of a postponement, saying there had been “enormous confusion” about when the hearing would take place and that her coalition was consequently underrepresented at the meeting.

BCRC’s vice president, Grayson Cox, disagreed with the notion that the Environmental Commission didn’t need to weigh in before the case went to Council and said that the assumption led his allies to believe the case would be postponed.

“It would be a travesty if we were to try and hear this case — the most controversial zoning case in Austin right now — with basically no public input,” said Cox.

Representatives from the developer, however, just wanted to make sure the matter was heard on June 21. Attorney Jeff Howard gave a history of the protracted City Hall process the PUD had gone through so far, saying, “The time has come to hear the case.”

“This has been before the Environmental Commission since November 2015. So, for eight months, it’s been pending before the Environmental Commission and they decided not to hear it until June 1,” said Howard, who said it was that body’s “responsibility to act.”

Howard also pointed out that the agreement to conduct the transportation study earlier than usual was “at the behest of one Council member” and that it was unusual to postpone in order to have that study completed early. He asked for certainty regarding the June 21 date.

On the other hand, Greenberg said that when she first heard about the sale of the state land that is now seeking rezoning, she was concerned about traffic and flooding. She said she feared that “without careful engineering,” the development would make those problems worse and pushed for an indefinite postponement while elaborating on those concerns.

That push was not successful and was ultimately withdrawn by Greenberg. And, though some commissioners tried to elicit a promise that the case would be heard on June 21 for certain, they were unsuccessful.

“I have learned, when it comes to the Grove, not to make an absolute guarantee on anything,” said Rusthoven.

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