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Grove PUD remains in limbo

Friday, April 13, 2018 by Jack Craver

The drama over the Grove at Shoal Creek may be far from over. The project has been tangled in city bureaucracy ever since City Council greenlighted the controversial planned unit development at the corner of 45th Street and Bull Creek Road in December 2016.

While the Council vote granted the zoning needed to build the massive mixed-use project, which will include more than 1,500 residential units as well as a large amount of retail and office space, the developers have yet to receive approval of the preliminary plan, which lays out the specific details about the dimensions of the development.

Not only has it taken an extra-long amount of time for staff to sign off on the plan, the Zoning and Platting Commission voted on April 3 to postpone consideration of the plan for another six weeks, until May 15.

The commission did not have enough members present to approve the plan, but most of the commissioners present sided with the neighbors anyway and voted in favor of the postponement.

Although state law requires that a preliminary plan win the approval of a city land use commission, it also requires the commission to approve the plan as long as it complies with all relevant city code. City staff has said that the plan does comply with the code; however, neighborhood activists say that the developer has yet to resolve a number of issues, and urged the commission to postpone.

Members of the Bull Creek Road Coalition, a neighborhood group that has pushed for a smaller project, have alleged that the preliminary plan includes a half-acre less of parkland than was mandated by the PUD ordinance. They point specifically to an “infiltration zone” around a pond, saying that that zone should not count as “credited parkland” because that part of the land is not open to the types of recreation expected of parkland.

“The developer has continued to be disingenuous with the neighbors. And … we will hold them to the letter of the law on their plats,” said Ranleigh Hirsh, an activist with the BCRC.

Jeff Howard, a lobbyist for the development, said no parkland has been lost.

“We are delivering everything required by the PUD,” he said in an email to the Austin Monitor. “The pond in the Signature Park is highly amenitized and will be a focal point of the park. The edges of the pond will be especially ideal recreational spaces. This is similar to many park areas throughout the city such as the Lake Park at Mueller.”

Howard also suggested that the review has taken three to four times as long as usual because of the political controversy surrounding the development. At least one city staffer conceded that the political sensitivity of the development has resulted in extra scrutiny of the preliminary plan.

Andy Linseisen, assistant director of the Development Services Department, also said that the preliminary plan complied with the PUD ordinance and city code. Part of the reason the staff review took so long, he explained, was the multiple agreements included in the PUD relating to parkland, affordable housing and improvements to Bull Creek Road.

“The review times for the preliminary plan were longer than typically anticipated as staff worked with the applicant to finalize the implementation of the PUD ordinance and carefully evaluate the Preliminary Plan to ensure that it reflected the requirements of the ordinance,” he said in an email.

The development is in District 10, represented by Council Member Alison Alter, and is just west of District 7, represented by Council Member Leslie Pool. The project featured prominently in both of their election campaigns in 2016. Both were supported by neighborhood groups that were seeking to significantly reduce the size of the project, particularly in terms of the commercial space.

Both Alter and Pool declined to comment on the matter, saying that the issue was out of their hands and up to the Zoning and Platting Commission.

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan told the Monitor on Thursday that delaying the “perfunctory approval” was wholly unnecessary and does nothing more than drive up the cost of the development, costs that would be passed on to the eventual residents.

“The case was decided. There is no value to delaying its completion. There is no legal room to delay its completion,” he said. “And in fact, you put at risk some of the benefits and affordable housing that this project can actually deliver. The longer this case drags on, the longer it will be before we have affordable housing on that site.”

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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