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CM Houston helps neighbors of Ferguson Crossing

Thursday, July 19, 2018 by Jo Clifton

City Council gave final approval to a zoning change that will allow a new warehouse complex in far-Northeast Austin and approved a conditional overlay to accommodate neighbors who live just across the street from the property but outside the city.

Council Member Ora Houston made a motion to require the developer to build a 50-foot vegetative buffer “for screening purposes” on property at 3207 Ferguson Lane at the June 28 meeting.

Houston’s motion provided for a buffer along the eastern property line adjacent to Sansom Road across the street from the Walnut Place Neighborhood, which is in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. The developer will be expected to build on-site water detention and water quality and drainage improvements within the buffer zone. The same motion removed zoning for housing from the property.

The motion won unanimous approval, excepting Council Member Jimmy Flannigan.

Because it had such a crowded agenda, Council did not get around to taking up the item until 11 p.m. Joyce Thoresen of the Walnut Place neighborhood told Council she had been waiting for nine hours “so I can say these three sentences.”

“I want to thank Councilwoman Houston for taking her time to visit. Her assessment of the situation is greatly appreciated. While the neighborhood hoped for a larger vegetative buffer, I am here to support Ms. Houston’s proposal of a buffer and enhanced water detention to protect homes on Walnut Creek and Ferguson Branch,” she said.

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo thanked Thoresen “for sticking it out this whole long day. Civic engagement is tough work and we really appreciate it.”

Ernie Gammage, another neighbor of the project, explained to Council during a May hearing on the zoning case that he has lived in the same spot for the past 30 years. He described his neighborhood as being “under an assault of traffic, flooding and one of the dumps (that) has built out just on the edge of our property. And this is just another affront to us. When we moved out there we were surrounded by cornfields, and now we’re surrounded by UPS and the post office.”

Gammage said he was personally most concerned about flooding and the possibility that additional impervious cover would mean that his home would be flooded during heavy rains.

Flannigan pointed out that Council took up the item late in the evening the first time it considered the zoning change, and at the time he promised to bring up his concerns on second and third reading.

“Well, now here we are, so I’m now forced to bring it up even though it is after 11 o’clock at night. So, again, my concern is that when we’re talking about compatibility, it is not fair to the future Austin residents of this development that anything could be built across the street from them because it is not in the city, and so that is a future burden. … We’re affording a protection to people who are not in the city, but we are not able to afford that protection to people who are in the city. And that is my objection with that,” he said.

However, Houston’s motion removed the compatibility standards Council previously approved, and Flannigan said he felt better with the compatibility standards gone. However, he added, “I struggle with anything protecting folks that are not Austinites because they don’t get to vote and they don’t pay city taxes and they are not annexed – and likely could never be annexed – because of changes in state law, and possibly changes in city policy.”

He further explained that his district adjoins numerous ETJ areas, “and nine times out of 10, what happens is the ETJ area gets redeveloped and has a negative impact on the folks on the city side. And in this case, without the housing there, I can understand that might be a slightly different thing, but I still struggle with the precedent.”

Map from Google Maps.

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