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ZAP commissioners clash on a vote for extended Rundberg Lane and Belmont Apartments

Friday, September 28, 2018 by Alyx Wilson

Between the rotating podium speakers and the flurry of questions from across the dais, everyone had at least a few clashing opinions about a District 1 rezoning case at the Zoning and Platting Commission on Tuesday night.

LDG Development LLC applied for a rezoning of the eight acres of land at 9100 Brown Lane. According to Eric Bollich, managing engineer in the Austin Transportation Department, the city of Austin has hoped to extend Rundberg Lane diagonally through the square of land since 1995. The applicant hoping to build on the lot is required to include the right of way in their proposed development plan.

LDG Development has named the project Belmont Apartments for the time being, in hopes of bringing affordable housing to the lot.

In order to begin that process, the land had to be rezoned from Limited Industrial Services (LI). The developer requested that the tracts both north and south of the proposed right of way be rezoned as General Commercial Services-Mixed Use (CS-MU).

According to Heather Chaffin with the Planning and Zoning Department, the developers wanted CS-MU because it is “kind of comparable to MF-4 zoning, which is multifamily use with slightly different design regulations.” This request would allow the developer to build apartments on both the north and the south tracts.

However, staff recommended multifamily should only be applied to the south tract, while the north tract would be rezoned as commercial use only. This recommendation would block the developer from building apartments or any form of housing on the north tract.

“Once the roadway goes in there, it kind of changes the character of the area,” Chaffin said. “The tract that is to the southwest of the new road is going to be immediately adjacent to some apartments that are being built, the other one is on the north side next to Brown Lane.”

Chaffin explained that the entire stretch of Brown Lane and all of the area immediately surrounding that tract is zoned for and used as light industrial and heavy commercial use. This includes an automotive repair shop, an appliance repair shop, and so forth.

“As a standalone piece, we didn’t think it would be appropriate to have residential there,” Chaffin concluded.

The applicant stressed that the right of way did put a hardship on his client, given that the extended Rundberg Lane would take up nearly 20 percent of the 8 acres, and that it was an important request for them to have both tracts rezoned as CS-MU.

“My client is an affordable housing developer that partners with the (Housing Authority of the City of Austin), and over the last two years they’ve developed approximately 1,000 units of either smart housing or affordable housing,” said Steve Buffum, the agent representing LDG Development.

Among the nine commissioners present, each asked at least one question to either the applicant, Planning and Zoning staff, or Transportation staff regarding parking, possible new bus stops, and specifics on the new road. The three rotated between the two podiums unable to give many exact answers, since the project needs the rezoning approved before a site plan can be completed or exact plans can be put into action.

“A lot of people use the word ‘affordable’ housing, and it’s really not affordable. Is there a commitment to affordable housing for this project?” Commissioner Jim Duncan asked.

Buffum stated that 51 percent of the building is at 80 percent median family income, providing 62 units of affordable housing. The other 49 percent is at market rate. Buffum also explained that over 260 units were being built next door to this project by the same developer.

Commissioner Ann Denkler interrupted, saying she was a little worried the commission was overstepping with questioning about how many units they could develop, which is a site plan issue that would be resolved after the commission approved the rezoning.

“I never asked that question,” said Duncan, “I complimented them for not putting buildings in the proposed right of way.”

After some confusion on whether the developer planned to build with the total 8 acres in mind or the net acreage after subtracting the land used for the right of way, Buffum and Chaffin confirmed that the right of way would be taken into account.

Commissioner Bruce Evans pointed out that just three lots north of the tract, there was already residential use that existed in the middle of the LI area.

“I have somewhat of a problem with staff for making that recommendation as per decision as to where people might or might not want to live,” Evans said, “I think if you as a developer are willing to take that risk and put multifamily units in there, you either fill them or you don’t, and that should be your decision.”

Commissioner Sunil Lavani agreed, saying that he understood that the location is not completely ideal, but at the end of the day the demand for housing is huge. He said that the area was not being used for heavy industrial use and any issues there could be mitigated during the site plan stage.

“In that area on Decker Lane the occupancies are extremely high and prices are rising, and I think any opportunity for affordable housing in this city overbears all the other factors,” said Lavani.

Commissioner David King moved to go with staff recommendation and close the public hearing, which passed 6-3 with Lavani, Evans and Commissioner Nadia Barrera-Ramirez opposed. Commissioners Dustin Breithaupt and Betsy Greenberg were absent.

Map courtesy of Google Maps.

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