Commission strikes compromise in contentious mixed use zoning request
In line with the emphasis on mixed use zoning proposed in the CodeNEXT draft, the Zoning and Platting Commission voted to approve staff’s recommendation of mixed use Limited Office zoning for a lot on Slaughter Lane during its Mar. 20 meeting.
The request had originally been to upzone both 1109 W. Slaughter Lane and 9401 South Chisholm Trail, but the households along dead-end Chisholm expressed concern that a commercial zoning for 9401 could overburden the narrow street. In response, the application was amended to only include 1109 W. Slaughter.
Agent Jim Wittliff explained at the hearing that applicant Mario Solis had informally pledged to the neighborhood that he would apply for a Limited Office designation, but at the time he did not understand what uses were available for that zoning category. Solis ended up instructing Wittliff to request Neighborhood Commercial (LR) instead, but the request was amended again to Limited Office-Mixed Use (LO-MU) after more neighborhood resistance.
Wittliff said he did not understand why such a simple case had become so contentious. The backup documents for the item ran 141 pages long in order to include all of the heated correspondence between the city, the applicant and the neighborhood. Dawn Wilson, one of the residents on Chisholm, said that the neighborhood was put off by the flip-flop attitude of the applicant and that its main concern was safety.
In the backup for the case, the staff’s recommendation said that the request was reasonable considering that there was another live/work upholstery business across the street and Slaughter Lane is a major corridor. Case manager Wendy Rhoades went on to say at the meeting that the applicant would not be able to apply the more intense uses permitted in Limited Office because of the small lot size (0.67 acre) and environmental constraints on the site.
Commissioner Bruce Evans agreed with staff. He said that the rising property values in the area would make it unlikely that this real estate would remain single family, despite the neighborhood’s wishes to maintain the cohesion of the block.
Evans also said that he felt like mixed use aligned with Draft 3 of CodeNEXT, where the Limited Office zoning category (among others) includes residential uses. Commissioner Betsy Greenberg clarified that this request isn’t exactly the same because Draft 3 also proposes affordability requirements for those uses.
Consensus on the dais seemed to be that the request was acceptable, but some commissioners were not happy about how it had been reached. Chair Jolene Kiolbassa said that she was disappointed that the applicant had withdrawn their original request after a valid petition from the neighborhood had been submitted and reapplied with new boundaries as a way of circumventing opposition. She claimed that it was not the first time this had happened, citing the Champion tract case from 2016 as an example.
Wittliff asked if he could respond to Kiolbassa’s comments, but she denied the request because the public hearing had been closed. Nevertheless, Wittliff said that he was “very offended.”
After exploring the possibility of a conditional overlay as a substitute for the mixed use component, the commission concluded that its recommendation would include both, with the single condition allowing only one residential unit. The motion passed 8-1, with Kiolbassa dissenting and commissioners Yvette Flores and Abigail Tatkow absent. The case is planned to go before City Council at its next meeting.
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City of Austin Zoning and Platting Commission: The City of Austin's Zoning and Platting Commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.