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Planning Commission recommends drive-through at Oltorf intersection

Friday, February 3, 2017 by Joseph Caterine

Overruling objections from the East Riverside/Oltorf Neighborhood, the Planning Commission voted during its Jan. 24 meeting to move forward with a change that could bring a drive-through to the area.

Applicant 1616 E Oltorf Street, LTD. requested to upzone the eponymous property from community commercial-conditional overlay to general commercial services, which would remove current prohibitive uses, including drive-through services. The commission passed the motion unanimously, with commissioners Fayez Kazi and Chito Vela absent.

Richard Suttle, the agent representing the applicant, said that with the current prohibitive uses on the site, it has been difficult to find any tenants or developers interested in doing something with it. The Planning Commission, in a previous case that night, unanimously denied a request for drive-through services, so Suttle attempted to distinguish the two cases during his presentation.

“Unlike the one you previously looked at, this is on I-35,” Suttle said. “We think we could probably come up with a site plan where a drive-through would be appropriate at this location and would not hinder the pedestrian experience.”

Andrew Moore, the case manager, admitted that the applicant’s plans for the property do conflict with the East Riverside/Oltorf Neighborhood Plan, although the tract was not included in the corresponding future land use map and therefore does not require an amendment to the plan.

“The expectation of the neighbors was that it would be mixed-use in the future,” he said.

“So why is staff not pursuing that now?” asked Commissioner Trinity White.

“Staff wouldn’t be opposed to it,” Moore replied. “The applicant isn’t supportive of mixed-use at this point.”

Neighbor Toni House, speaking in opposition, said that she appreciated the applicant including several of the neighborhood contact team’s suggested prohibitive uses in its request, but she still had concerns. She argued that the reason the property had been removed from the future land use map when the neighborhood plan was adopted in 2006 was so that the area would be redeveloped coherently as a core transit corridor, rather than erratically in bits and pieces.

“I’m not saying that it’s time (to) begin an Oltorf corridor planning process; I do think it’s a little too early,” House said. “But it is not too early to begin viewing every zoning application on this section of Oltorf carefully and to ensure that any new project will seamlessly blend into the corridor as it develops.”

In response, Suttle said that the applicant was not opposed to mixed-use – it just hadn’t applied for it. As for the drive-through services, he said that the applicant had agreed to pay mitigation costs relating to the added uses.

“If you can’t do a drive-through at the corner of Oltorf and I-35, then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate and just outlaw drive-throughs, because this site would be the place,” he said.

White made a motion to approve staff’s recommendation, including drive-through services as a conditional use and also adding mixed-use to the zoning designation, which would allow the owner to pursue a mixed-use project but would not require it.

Commissioner James Schissler seconded. Commissioner Patricia Seeger made a friendly amendment to include pawn shops in the list of prohibited uses.

“It doesn’t work to have a site plan tied to zoning,” Schissler said. “When you do it that way, you end up with grandfathering rights that are looked down upon. So, I think this is the proper way to move this case forward.”

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