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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Friday, February 9, 2018 by Jo Clifton
East side developer just needs a driveway
Developer John Klitz isn’t asking for much from his zoning case. As attorney Jeff Howard told City Council last week, Klitz and his company, SL Shady Lane, are only seeking to remove a conditional overlay on his property at 1105 Airport Blvd. that prevents access to Shady Lane. Council approved removing that overlay on first reading only at its Feb. 1 meeting.
The property, which once housed an infamous tank farm, is zoned Community Commercial-Mixed Use (GR-MU), Howard noted, and the developer is not asking for a change in that zoning or any one of a number of things frequently requested in zoning cases.
Howard said, “We’re not asking for additional uses. We’re not asking for a density bonus. We’re not asking for an increase in density. We’re not asking for variances or waivers. We’re not asking for a neighborhood plan amendment. All we want is to have safe access to our site. In fact, I would argue that the city should allow any owner, and in fact maybe is obligated to allow any owner, to have safe access to their property.”
The property, located at Airport and Shady Lane and Bolm Road, is burdened with a conditional overlay, enacted in 1998, which prevents access to Shady Lane. Howard said perhaps that was done in error. “What’s interesting is if you look at the approved minutes from 1998, it actually says the (overlay) prohibits access to Airport Boulevard. However, the ordinance actually prohibited access anywhere else but the existing access on Airport Boulevard.”
According to Howard, not only has the city recognized that the access is not safe, the Texas Department of Transportation has also recognized it. A number of upgrades are planned for Airport Boulevard, and the developer has contributed $40,000 as its pro rata share to pay for those upgrades, but that does not solve the problem if future residents of the property can’t safely get in and out.
Pointing to a map of the current configuration, Howard said, “It is a dangerous place to have access. And that’s the only access that’s allowed by your zoning ordinance. So all we have asked is to change that zoning to allow safe access.”
However, because the property used to be one of the infamous fuel storage locations, known as tank farms, there are concerns beyond traffic.
Howard said the person who owned the property prior to his client cleaned up the property but did not do the monitoring and testing required to now allow residential uses. However, he said such monitoring and testing has now been done, and he provided backup material to show that the property is now approved for residential use.
Susana Almanza of PODER, which was organized to clean up the tank farms, said she was very surprised to hear that the property was now environmentally safe enough for residences. At the time that Council approved GR-MU, Almanza said, the neighborhood wanted that zoning because they thought it would mean different types of retail. She said it took more than 10 years to remediate the site, and now the developer is saying they cleaned up the site in just one year.
“I just – I’m dumbfounded by that, that we monitored that cleanup process for over 10 years and that they were able to clean this industrial site in one year. And then they got a letter from (the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) that was all that we were able to see. I’d like to have that checked, because knowing the people that are in power right now in the governorship and TCEQ, I don’t trust them, and I’m really afraid about putting over 300 families here on a contaminated site and having also, when you’re digging, all the contamination coming from this site.” Almanza said she wanted Council to send the case to the Environmental Commission for their review.
Howard said the TCEQ did approve the site for residential use in 2017. Council asked him to provide documentation to Almanza about the cleanup on the property before the case comes back for second and third reading.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.