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Austin Oaks PUD plods toward Council

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

Discussion of Austin’s “other” planned unit development – the Austin Oaks PUD – has been postponed to the Nov. 1 meeting of the Zoning and Platting Commission. The postponement came at the request of some of the nearby neighbors, who asked for more time to read the Traffic Impact Analysis (aka TIA) to better understand its details.

Commissioners voted 6-4 to postpone, with commissioners Susan Harris, Gabriel Rojas, Bruce Evans and Sunil Lavani voting in opposition, and with Commissioner Jolene Kiolbassa absent for the vote.

Commissioner Betsy Greenberg, who briefly dove into picking apart the TIA herself, expressed support for the postponement. She said she saw an opportunity to resolve the issues therein in the two weeks until the next meeting, making it easier for the commission to evaluate the case.

However, Harris strongly disagreed, and she pointed out that it was a memo about the TIA, not the document itself, that was released earlier this month.

“I just don’t feel, based on the amount of time that’s been given to the neighborhood, that the postponement is really about good faith analysis and discussion,” said Harris. “To me, it smacks of a delay tactic … meant to delay and harm the applicant. This case has been out there a long time. We’ve had a long time to review this.”

Several neighbors requested the postponement, saying they needed more time to examine the documents associated with the PUD.

“The pages, just in the appendix, number over 1,000 pages,” said Madeline Highsmith, who was representing Northwest Austin Neighbors. “And we are not paid to work on this full time.”

Highsmith said they are working as a group to come up with suggestions for traffic mitigation, and she claimed that some parts of the TIA appear to contain errors that they hope to investigate further.

Chris Edwards, who serves on the board of the Balcones Civic Association, also requested the postponement. “There have been many postponements, but this is the first one that has been requested by the neighbors,” she said, and explained that no fewer than six neighborhood organizations needed the opportunity to review the documents.

“Also, the applicant no longer communicates with the working group,” said Edwards. “(They) communicate with only one neighborhood association, which is (the North West Austin Civic Association). We still have members of NWACA that are part of the working group, so perhaps with another two weeks, the applicant might choose to communicate with us.”

Indeed, the first go-around for the Austin Oaks PUD was in summer 2014. In September 2015, the Zoning and Platting Commission postponed the case indefinitely, and since then, developers have worked with the neighborhood through a charrette that was completed in January of this year.

Attorney Michael Whellan, who is representing the owner, Spire Realty, countered the claims of the neighborhood. He said the TIA and appendix were filed on July 26 and sent to the working group on the same day. He pointed out that it was also posted on the NWACA website, though he acknowledged that a staff memo about the TIA was written more recently.

“It’s untrue that I haven’t been communicating,” said Whellan. “And I would hardly call this a rush to decision on this case.”

Whellan requested that any errors or problems found in the TIA be sent to him in advance, to avoid what he termed “discussion by ambush.”

A motion that included a request that all errors be provided to the developers in advance of the meeting was shot down by commissioners and neighbor Brad Parsons, who told commissioners that they, and everyone, “had the right to present information as late as the hearing.”

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