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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Thursday, May 3, 2018 by Jo Clifton
Despite staff objection, Slaughter zoning OK’d
Jim Wittliff of Land Answers Inc. represents the owner of two lots on Slaughter Lane, one of which is adjacent to a small residential street. After meeting with members of the Slaughter Lane Neighborhood Association last November, Wittliff told the Austin Monitor he thought neighbors were supporting his request to rezone the two lots from Single Family Residence-Standard Lot (SF-2) to Limited Office-Mixed Use (LO-MU).
Wittliff said he agreed to having no access through Chisholm Trail, but city planners disagreed, saying he needed to take access through the small residential street. Then there was a change in the association’s leadership, he said, and the neighborhood decided to oppose the rezoning and gathered enough signatures for a valid petition.
Wittliff then withdrew his request to rezone the lot at the corner of Slaughter Lane and Chisholm Trail, leaving the request to rezone just the lot that fronts on Slaughter and has no access to Chisholm Trail. In doing so, he invalidated the petition meant to stop the zoning change.
City Council voted 9-1 at last week’s meeting to approve the rezoning request for 1109 W. Slaughter Lane from SF-2 to LO-MU on first reading. The change Council approved includes a conditional overlay mandating access on Slaughter Lane and prohibiting access through the adjacent residential street, Chisholm Trail. Council Member Jimmy Flannigan offered the lone vote against the new zoning, and Council Member Ellen Troxclair was on family leave.
Neighbors who live on Chisholm Trail testified in support of the conditional overlay, and Council Member Ann Kitchen, who represents the area, made sure that the conditional overlay was part of her motion to approve the zoning change.
On the other hand, the city’s Transportation Department staff had specifically stated in written backup material that it did not support prohibiting access to the neighborhood street. At 9 p.m., when Council approved the zoning change, there was no one from the Transportation Department there to address the question.
However, Greg Guernsey, director of the Planning and Zoning Department, told Council that staff did not support the conditional overlay. According to backup documents for the zoning change, one section of the Land Development Code “prohibits access to arterials,” such as Slaughter Lane, “if the lot has less than 200 feet of frontage and access is available from other roadways. This code section is a life/safety issue for the purposes of reducing the number of curb cuts and those traffic conflict points on major roadways, and providing for a safer and more efficient transportation system.”
The writer noted that Chisholm Trail has a substandard pavement width, described in testimony as 17 feet. “At the time of site plan, additional improvements to the Chisholm Trail right-of-way adjacent to the slot will likely be required for construction by the applicant, including widening to a standard width, installing sidewalks, curbing and gutters.”
Wittliff specifically promised neighbors that he would not take access to Chisholm Trail from the property currently being rezoned and that TxDOT had already provided a curb cut on Slaughter.
Flannigan said he was opposed to the conditional overlay as well as to a requirement that the project have just one residence. He pointed out that Slaughter Lane is part of the corridor designated for improvements in the mobility bond approved by voters in 2016.
Wittliff said that he expects to file a request to change the zoning on the other property, which currently has a house with no kitchen. Apparently, the property owner built the house in anticipation of turning it into an office at some point. When he does request the zoning change for the second lot, Wittliff could offer a conditional overlay for that lot also to prohibit access via Chisholm Trail. If he does not do that, it seems likely that neighbors will come back with another valid petition.
Council is scheduled to consider the rezoning on second and third reading at its meeting next week. Mayor Steve Adler said he wanted to hear from the transportation staff before next week’s vote.
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Planning and Zoning Department: Planning, preservation and design services are under the purview of this department.