Commission split on CURE rezone east of I-35
A rezoning application for several properties on East Fourth Street is moving forward to City Council with no recommendation after a divided discussion at the Planning Commission’s Nov. 14 meeting on the appropriateness of the central urban redevelopment (CURE) combining district on the central east side.
Council passed a resolution at its Oct. 19 meeting stating that CURE zoning should no longer apply east of Interstate 35. The CURE category had originally been put in place in 1996 to spur growth downtown, but Council voted in 2013 to remove large swaths of the district. However, the districts on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and East Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, 11th and 12th streets had stayed in place.
The proposed zoning and neighborhood plan changes for 1600, 1602, 1604, 1606, 1608 and 1610 East Fourth Street were to build office buildings through the Transit-Oriented Development Density Bonus Program. This project would also be taking advantage of the CURE maximum height restriction of 90 feet, although the applicant was amenable to staff’s recommendation of a 75-foot maximum. Agent Michael Whellan with Graves, Dougherty, Hearon & Moody made the case that it was exactly the type of multimodal development that the city was looking for after approving the eight-block Plaza Saltillo project in March.
The only reason this case was being considered after the October Council resolution, explained case manager Heather Chaffin at the meeting, was that the owners – Tocayo GP LLC and CC Third and Comal LP – had filed the application in August, before the resolution had been adopted.
“We have zoning cases that come in before there are changes all the time, just like how everything coming in now is coming in before CodeNEXT,” Chaffin said, “but an applicant has a right to request a zoning change if that category is available (at that time).”
Setting the delay-prone nature of the zoning process aside, Commissioner Trinity White still did not understand why staff was making a recommendation to approve despite Council’s resolution. “I’m disappointed to hear that that didn’t come up at some point in this report,” she said.
Not all commissioners felt that way. Commissioner Greg Anderson said that he did not blame the applicant for not basing plans on decisions Council may or may not make, and Commissioner Tom Nuckols said that CURE had been bad in some cases, but in others it had been good.
“I think Council is willing to do away with CURE, because under CodeNEXT there are going to be a lot of other alternatives to achieve good results,” Nuckols said. “In this case, I think you’ve got to focus on whether it’s delivering a good product.”
Then again, said Commissioner Nuria Zaragoza, concentrating on the flexibility of CURE zoning obscured the question of whether or not it should ever have been on the east side in the first place. Council Member Ora Houston has said that she was motivated to sponsor the October resolution as an emergency measure to cut off the wave of gentrification that CURE had in part facilitated.
The East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning team had organized its own emergency meeting after finding out about this zoning case and had voted unanimously to oppose the request.
“A lot of folks forget that in between East Fourth and Cesar Chavez we have little houses,” representative Susan Benz said.
Motions to approve the staff recommendation and to deny it both failed, so the request will go to Council with no opinion from the commission.
Map of the original CURE boundaries courtesy of the city of Austin.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.
CURE zoning: Central Urban Redevelopment zoning is a zoning district in downtown Austin.
East Austin: East Austin is the quadrant of Austin that, generally speaking, is east of IH-35.