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Latest Champions rezoning victorious

Tuesday, November 15, 2016 by Elizabeth Pagano

As of Thursday, another chapter in the storied history of the Champions tract has been written.

The public testimony against the case continued from the previous meeting, where opponents spoke for more than an hour against changing the zoning at 6409 City Park Road from general office (GO-CO) to multifamily (MF-4-CO), with a conditional overlay.

Though the rezoning originally had a valid petition against it, with 36.76 percent of property owners within 200 feet opposed, that changed after the area to be rezoned was moved in 200 feet from the original boundary, and the petition was no longer valid on Thursday. That meant that a majority, not a supermajority, of City Council was required to approve the rezoning.

“I believe a petition would be impossible,” said Planning and Zoning Department Assistant Director Jerry Rusthoven.

The rezoning was approved in a vote of 7-4 with Council members Sheri Gallo, Leslie Pool, Ann Kitchen and Ora Houston voting in opposition.

Linda Salomon, who is a member of the Westminster Glen Homeowners Association, spoke against “shoehorning in a development that absolutely does not fit on a particular plot of land.” Specifically, Solomon warned that City Park Road was already dangerous.

“We’re not kidding when we say this isn’t a safe entrance. There is no safe egress and ingress as it is proposed,” said Salomon. “Please do not shoehorn something that is already going to make an unsafe intersection and road infinitely worse.”

Environmental Officer Chuck Lesniak explained that, under the existing entitlements, the 45-acre property could be developed with up to 7 acres of impervious cover, and the developers were proposing 5 acres of impervious cover. He further explained that the rezoning would include a permanent conservation easement for more than 30 acres of the tract.

An amendment to the settlement agreement established in 1996 will also allow about 28 feet of cut and fill, with a limited footprint. In addition, Armbrust & Brown attorney Richard Suttle, who is representing the developer, told Council that they would voluntarily offer 10 percent of the units at 80 percent of the median family income for 40 years. That, he said, brought the development into “complete compliance with the Imagine Austin plan.”

“This is a case that’s been around a long, long time,” said Suttle, who noted that part of that history was a vehicle trip cap that was deemed to be a violation of a settlement agreement. He also pointed out that they were not asking for any specific driveway through the rezoning and that that would be part of the later site plan phase of the project, in which they would have to prove it was safe.

“If we can’t prove that it’s safe, we don’t get a driveway,” said Suttle. “But you aren’t approving a driveway tonight.”

“I’ve never worked so hard for such a small apartment project on 45 acres,” said Suttle.

Council Member Greg Casar said he appreciated the explanation from Lesniak that voting against the rezoning could result in development across the tract, which wouldn’t help flooding concerns or environmental impact. He added that while he was concerned about dangerous roadways in the city, they had to rely on Transportation Department staff to evaluate the safety of plans.

“If we can’t rely on them, we have a way bigger concern than this one project,” said Casar.

Gallo, whose District 10 includes the Champions tract, said the community had failed to provide funding for road infrastructure outside of the central city and that City Park Road was a “perfect example” of that lack.

“I absolutely agree with the neighbors in the surrounding areas that say City Park Road is dangerous and we as a city have a responsibility to figure out a way to fund long overdue improvements on this substandard road,” she said. “The majority of the neighborhoods who have submitted official neighborhood opinions are opposed to this zoning case. And I absolutely agree with the concerns they have.”

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