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South Congress hotel waivers trump some neighbors’ worries

Monday, July 11, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

After a successful night at the Planning Commission, a new South Congress hotel will have both a pool and a driveway — despite concerns about their placement from neighbors and the church next door.

While the zoning at 2510 South Congress Ave. does allow for a hotel, Krug Development was seeking compatibility waivers from the city that will allow for a driveway and swimming pool to be placed closer to residential property than allowed under code. The driveway will be 5 feet from the neighboring property, instead of the required 15, and the pool will be 28 feet away, not the required 50.

The developer has agreed to construct a 6-foot privacy fence and a 10-foot acoustic wall around the pool as well as to limit pool hours. They explained that the driveway waiver is needed, in part, to help preserve heritage trees.

A motion to approve both variances failed. However, once the waivers were considered separately, commissioners voted to approve the driveway 9-2, with commissioners Karen McGraw and Tom Nuckols voting in opposition. Commissioners also approved the waiver for the pool, with the restriction that the pool be open only from 9 a.m. until 10 p.m., in a vote of 7-4, with commissioners Trinity White, Nuria Zaragoza, Nuckols and McGraw voting in opposition.

Zaragoza explained her opposition.

“If compatibility doesn’t apply in this situation, where would it? I think if any of us has been next to a pool — it doesn’t have to be a rowdy partier, it could be my kids — it’s really annoying to hear a constant stream of people on vacation all the time,” said Zaragoza. “There’s a reason why compatibility addresses these high-intensity uses.”

Commissioner James Shieh, however, pointed out that the placement of the pool and driveway would actually help control sound, because they were intentionally placed on lower elevations.

Mike McHone, who was representing the developer, explained that they had a “very challenging situation” due to the heritage trees on the property and the topography of the site. He said that they had been meeting with the Dawson Neighborhood Plan Team, that they had been “very cordial” and that they had been able to reach an agreement where they supported the waivers. He pointed to instances where similar waivers had been granted in the past in the area, which is a core transit corridor.

Tym Seay, who is on the board of the Church in Austin, told the commission that the church objected to both waivers and wanted the hotel to be built within the code. “The issue here is protection of residential property rights and church property rights,” he said. “That’s what we are deciding.

“We’re a very active church — pretty atypically. We’re there most of the day, every day, and into the evenings,” said Seay. He also told the commission that some of their employees live on the property and the hotel was asking to place their driveway 5 feet away from those residents and children’s classrooms.

“(South Congress) is a lively part of Austin,” said Seay. “We know about the parties down there — all night parties — and the fact that they are going to come to you with a waiver for alcohol next round … means it’s going to party life, night life, and that’s going to be right in our backyard.”

He said that the neighbors who are most impacted are against the waivers and that the vote to endorse them was rather close. Indeed, a dozen or so neighbors and church members spoke against the waivers, many of whom worried about safety and the potential of a “party atmosphere” invading the neighborhood.

Guesthouse Hotel owner, operator and developer David Krug told the commission that he and his wife were excited to open a second location (the first is in Chicago) and were “super excited to move our family here and build what we think will be an asset to the community and neighborhood.” He said their hotel was aimed at family and group travel and extended stay.

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