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Unadopted South Lamar Corridor Plan influences Planning Commission appeal

Wednesday, January 18, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

A subpar neighborhood traffic analysis did not stop the Planning Commission from granting an appeal for a 60,000-square-foot mixed-use project at 2010 South Lamar Blvd. during its Jan. 10 meeting.

Due to the site plan not meeting city code with its driveway on South Lamar, the applicant, Frontier Realty LLC, was forced to move the driveway of the project to Hether Street, which goes into a residential neighborhood.

This adjustment triggered a neighborhood traffic analysis — a simplified version of a traffic impact analysis — that showed projected traffic exceeding the 1,800 trip limit defined in city code. According to code, staff had to deny the application because of this result.

“A statutory denial would be the best analogy,” said Michael Whellan at the meeting, representing Frontier. “We stumbled onto this challenge in the code.”

The denial led the applicant to appeal to the Planning Commission, and together with city staff, they developed a mitigation proposal to address the concerns of overflow on Hether. “The basis of (our) mitigation discussion was the adopted South Lamar Corridor study,” said Scott James of the Development Services Department, “which identified goals and objectives for South Lamar Boulevard.”

Jeff Jack, president of the Zilker Neighborhood Association, pointed out that the South Lamar Corridor Improvement Program has not been officially adopted by City Council, although funding was allocated for improvements on the corridor with the 2016 mobility bond, which passed last November.

Basing the decision to appeal on the belief that traffic improvement will be partially funded by a program that the neighborhood has not yet evaluated seemed irresponsible, according to Jack. “Is the neighborhood supposed to take it on the chin for (this) mistake?” he asked.

Jack also felt that the manner in which city staff and the applicant had coordinated on this appeal was not appropriate. Commissioner Fayez Kazi asked city staff if they were recommending that the commission grant the appeal.

“I would phrase staff’s position as recognizing that the applicant has chosen to appeal and agreeing on the mitigation proposed,” James said. “Staff is not in opposition to their appeal.”

“You’re very politically correct, thank you,” Kazi said.

The proposed traffic mitigation would involve upgrading the traffic signal at the intersection of South Lamar and Hether, costing $82,500, and reconstructing the property’s frontage for a protected bike lane.

“We don’t have all the money to build out this corridor,” said Anna Martin, a south area engineer with the Transportation Department. “We’re relying on private development to help us along.”

The applicant, as part of the appeal, has committed to paying $37,000 of the mitigation costs, with the rest theoretically being covered by the mobility bond. Commissioner Tom Nuckols asked the applicant to waive its rough proportionality rights and instead cover the entire cost of mitigation.

“We’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars in redesigning the driveway,” Whellan said. “We’re going to be spending tens of thousands of dollars in creating the bike channel. As my grandmother used to say in Yiddish, ‘Too much is superfluous,’ or enough is enough.”

Even with Whellan’s rejection, Nuckols still made a motion to grant the appeal. “To me, getting rid of two curb cuts on Lamar and redirecting that traffic to a signalized intersection is absolutely an improvement,” he said.

Commissioner James Schissler seconded the motion. The motion passed 10-2, with commissioners Karen McGraw and Kazi dissenting.

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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