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Commissioners Court considers controversial variance request

Wednesday, June 28, 2017 by Caleb Pritchard

A platoon of concerned residents showed up to Travis County Commissioners Court on Tuesday to try to put the brakes on a proposed development near their homes.

Live Oak Springs would deliver 85 new homes near FM 1826 and Zyle Road southwest of Austin. However, the developer is seeking two variances that would allow him to build the project just to the north of existing homes on Zyle Road and have that street be the only point of access to FM 1826. Close to 20 residents of those homes spoke against the variance request.

The project sits in the city of Austin’s two-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction. Because the variances are transportation-related, the Commissioners Court has the privilege to weigh in. The project will also eventually go before the city’s Zoning and Platting Commission.

Paul Linehan, an architect representing the landowner, told the court that the proposed lot sizes exceed an acre each and described the project as a “very low-density development” that meets the standards of the city’s Save Our Springs Ordinance. He also explained that a traffic impact analysis projected that nearby intersections would not suffer from the expected increased number of drivers. Fire Marshal Tony Callaway has also signed off on the proposal and the developer will install a new waterline that will increase water pressure in the neighborhood’s fire hydrants.

Among the outstanding disagreements with some of the existing neighbors, Linehan explained that the developer has proposed a 25-foot vegetative buffer between the new homes and the nine homes that sit directly adjacent to the project.

“The neighborhood asked for 75 feet,” Linehan said. “We thought that was a little bit overboard.”

An attorney representing the Friends of Zyle Road argued that the project would double the number of the homes in a neighborhood that is not considered to be a high-growth area.

“So this is very high density considering the context of where it’s located in the county,” Brad Rockwell said.

Resident Don Cash told the court that he moved to the neighborhood 14 years ago when the original subdivision was brand new. He worried that doubling the number of homes would decrease safety on Zyle Road and deteriorate his quality of life. “It would be great if the builder or developer would have a little respect for what’s been there before,” Cash said.

Commissioner Gerald Daugherty, in whose Precinct 3 Live Oak Springs is slated to be built, said he understood the traffic concerns aired by the residents. He suggested that the county could consider expanding Zyle Road and adding sidewalks to the narrow street.

“Now it’s about movement, and it’s about how you allow people to still get out and walk and recreate. The only way you can do that, you’ve got to have a lot of road,” Daugherty said.

The court deferred on any decisive action on Tuesday, and Daugherty indicated his interest in continuing to facilitate negotiations between the developer and the concerned neighbors through the first few weeks of July. He said he would seek to have a final vote on either July 18 or July 25 at the latest.

“I don’t know where the votes will be, but that’s sort of what I’m prepared to do,” said Daugherty.

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