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Planning Commission approves South Austin rezoning despite traffic, flooding concerns

Monday, December 19, 2016 by Joseph Caterine

Despite opposition from neighbors, the Planning Commission last week voted to support the rezoning of a South Austin property to allow condominiums and townhouses.

At its Dec. 13 meeting, the commission unanimously approved the rezoning of 4507 and 4511 Vinson Drive from Family Residence (SF-3) to Townhouse & Condominium (SF-6) in the South Manchaca Neighborhood Planning Area, against the wishes of nearly 55 percent of residents who are considered to be adjacent to the properties, according to a valid petition submitted in August.

“I recognize that the neighborhood plan was just completed in 2014,” said Commissioner Karen McGraw. “So I can understand that all of (the residents) went through a lot of hard work. But what we’re dealing with is a city where every little spot is going to get built on.” In fact, the South Austin Combined Neighborhood Plan was the first adopted since the approval of the Imagine Austin comprehensive plan.

Christopher Scollard, a member of the Southwood Neighborhood Association who presented at the meeting, said that the rezoning would dramatically increase traffic on Vinson Drive, which is in desperate need of repair.

“While it may not be the responsibility of the developer to improve Austin’s infrastructure, I believe it is incumbent on our officials to vote in a way that does not exacerbate an already treacherous situation,” he said.

Tony Giustino, the property owner, disputed the claim that traffic would necessarily worsen.

“My intention is to build a good neighborhood,” he said. “I think that adding some density may actually slow traffic, because then there’s something there, not just an empty field.”

Commission Chair Stephen Oliver also questioned whether rezoning would make any difference to traffic if the owner was planning to redevelop the property either way.

“If 16 units can be built on this property under SF-3 or SF-6, the same number of cars would be leaving from this connecting point on Vinson,” he said.

Ray Collins, a member of the South Manchaca Contact Team, said that while on paper the same number of units could be built under either designation, he did not believe that city staff would approve as many units for a development under SF-3 zoning.

Furthermore, Collins said that he and some of the other residents had been advocating for the city to buy the land.

“Our goal is to have the city hold the property until Austin’s long-term plans for the unused railroad spur right-of-way (to the west of the property) come to fruition,” he said.

“I feel for the neighborhood,” said Commissioner Fayez Kazi, who made the motion to approve the rezoning. “I’d rather see the city buy the land, but between the two options in front of me, … I stand behind my motion.”

Resident Kate Mason-Murphy raised another issue, expressing concern about how the development would affect flooding downstream of Williamson Creek and in the surrounding area.

“We are four blocks down from (the property),” she said. “There is nothing they can do in taking (the property) from zero percent impervious cover to 50 percent impervious cover that’s not going to kill me and my community.”

McGraw expressed sympathy with that concern. “In my neighborhood, we had the exact same situation,” she said. “Upstream from where the flooding is, the state decided to sell some land. The city decided it didn’t want to buy it and do flood mitigation; they wanted housing. We got over 100 units.”

Commissioner James Schissler seconded Kazi’s motion, and it passed 11-0. Commissioners Angela Pineyro De Hoyos and Tom Nuckols were absent.

This story has been corrected to reflect the correct name of resident Kate Mason-Murphy.

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