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North Austin zoning case clears ZAP

Friday, January 20, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

At its meeting on Tuesday, the Zoning and Platting Commission approved a request to rezone a Northwest Austin property for Community Commercial (GR) use.

Ron Thrower, the agent representing owner and applicant Douglas Reynolds, said his client intends to have an automobile parts store on the site at 6914 McNeil Drive. “We’re trying to get permanent zoning for the very first time,” he said at the meeting.

Although Thrower himself may have been seeking a rezoning of the property for the first time, the owner had previously submitted an application to ZAP in 2015. At that time, staff disagreed with the Community Commercial designation and instead recommended Neighborhood Commercial (LR) zoning. LR does not permit general retail sales. That application was postponed indefinitely.

Commissioner Jolene Kiolbassa questioned city case manager Sherri Sirwaitis, who had also been the case manager for the 2015 submission, about discrepancies between the two applications.

The original staff recommendation reads, “The proposed (Neighborhood Commercial) zoning will promote consistency and orderly planning as it will provide a transition in the intensity of uses away from McNeil Drive to the north. Neighborhood Commercial zoning is compatible with the assisted living and multifamily residential uses surrounding the site.”

Referring to marked sections of the old application, which was displayed on a projector, Kiolbassa said, “The parcel is the same; the street is the same. … I don’t see anything that’s different.”

Sirwaitis recognized that staff was inclined to reconsider the original recommendation given the new agent and new proposal.

“This is just a recommendation from the staff,” Sirwaitis responded, “just as you make a recommendation to City Council. We do not make the final decision.”

Kiolbassa also pointed to the environmental section of the original application, which reads: “According to floodplain maps, there is a floodplain adjacent to the project location. Based upon the location of the floodplain, offsite drainage should be calculated to determine whether a Critical Water Quality Zone exists within the project location.”

“Could you read what the current application says?” Kiolbassa asked.

“According to floodplain maps, there is no floodplain within or adjacent to the project location,” Sirwaitis said.

“So what changed?” Kiolbassa asked.

“We had a different reviewer who reviewed this application,” Sirwaitis said, “and obviously they had a different opinion on what would be looked at, at the site plan phase.”

“This is a sensitive area,” Thrower said. “So we will have to go through state permitting as well.”

Commissioner Susan Harris made a motion to approve the staff recommendation, adding alternative financial services and hospital services to the list of prohibited uses and requiring sidewalks on the frontage of McNeil Drive and Los Indios Trail as part of a future restrictive covenant. Commissioner Bruce Evans seconded.

“I still feel like (Community Commercial) is too intense,” said Commissioner Betsy Greenberg. “There’s literally a retirement community surrounding it.”

Kiolbassa also made an amendment to prohibit drive-in use, seconded by Greenberg.

“I’m a little concerned that the current owner may be OK with accepting limits of use,” Commissioner Sunil Lavani said. “But in the future, if another owner comes in and wants to utilize it for something else, or if the market changes, I feel like we’re restricting those types of uses that may be allowed and figured out during the site development process.”

The motion passed 8-2, with Kiolbassa and Greenberg dissenting. Commissioner Dustin Breithaupt was absent.

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