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Musical infill: ZAP passes ‘spot zoning’ case

Monday, November 21, 2016 by Joseph Caterine

The Zoning and Platting Commission heard a rezoning case during its Nov. 15 meeting that drew criticism from neighborhood representatives who saw it as an example of “spot zoning.”

The property is located in Northwest Austin at 7901 Ranch Road 2222. The request was to change the zoning from Limited Office with a Conditional Overlay (LO-CO) to General Office and Mixed Use (GO-MU), so that a music production school could be built there.

John Stinson, owner of Stinson Recording Studios, started his business in a Hyde Park three-bedroom house in 1993. After the business grew, he opened the Recording Conservatory of Austin in 2007 at 4615 City Park Road. Now he plans on expanding his operation further.

During the public hearing, Stinson said he agreed with almost all of the staff recommendations, including a 35-foot building setback from the south property line and a 6-foot-high fence along the south property line, which borders a residential district.

His only request was that the last recommendation, which would limit the height of buildings on the property to 28 feet and restrict them to one story, be changed to 35 feet with a two-story limit. “There is a pretty hefty limitation on impervious coverage,” he said to the commission. “So there are two factors: one is making sure we have enough square footage, and the other is cost.”

Commissioner Susan Harris said that she did not understand why 35 feet was necessary for a two-story building. “Typically, in a two-story commercial office structure, you’re looking at 12- to 14-foot floors,” she said.

“There’s a pretty hefty slope,” Stinson said, “so there will have to be a significant amount of foundation.”

Carol Torgrimson, representing the Long Canyon Neighborhood Association and the 2222 Coalition of Neighborhood Associations, questioned why this property had to be rezoned in a neighborhood area when there is plenty of General Office zoning nearby. “It could cause a lot of confusion,” she said, “and set a precedent that has not been very helpful in our area of town.”

The property had been rezoned back in 2003 by the current owner, James Potter, to open up a dentist’s office. Torgrimson said that the neighborhood has been aware since then that the property would be developed, but that’s not the issue. “We would like to see it be developed in a way that is consistent with its location in proximity to our neighborhood,” she said.

The rezoning was approved in a vote of 6-3, with commissioners Sunil Lavani, Bruce Evans and Harris dissenting. Commissioners Gabriel Rojas and Dustin Breithaupt were absent. The rezoning is contingent on several conditions also approved by the commission, including an additional 35-foot setback on the west side of the property and a requirement that operational hours for business and trade schools be limited to between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Commissioner Ann Denkler also added an amendment that will make the business and trade school item a conditional use, due to concern about the noise that might result from a music school. “I could only support it if the use was conditional,” she said, “which allows the neighborhood the option of appealing to (City) Council if they don’t feel that the applicant has addressed all the issues relating to soundproofing, hours, etc.”

The conditional use will also affect how the site plan is reviewed when it comes before the commission for approval. “It means that the site plan will be evaluated on its impacts to the neighborhood,” Denkler said.

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