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Camelback tract
Friday, October 19, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

Camelback PUD unanimously passes first reading at Council

In an uncharacteristically quick manner, City Council unanimously passed the first reading of the Camelback Planned Unit Development at Thursday’s meeting.

The PUD, which has been the subject of great neighborly debate for the last several months, is a 145-acre property located just to the north of the Austin 360 bridge and comprises two tracts that are now known as Camelback, thanks to its distinctive shape on a map.

Council Member Ann Kitchen noted that although this PUD resides in District 10, because it is in an “iconic” location that many residents already consider to be public parkland, “this is something the whole city should be thinking about.”

Indeed, the whole city has participated in these discussions. Everyone from lake fanatics to members of the Sierra Club came to offer hours of vocal support for the project. In addition to the warm bodies who spoke in favor of the PUD, 320 individuals signed their support and nine neighborhood associations officially endorsed the PUD.

Still, despite widespread favor, there were some reservations among Council members and citizens regarding certain aspects of the PUD.

The main sticking points revolved around the proposed dock and clubhouse area. As there is currently no site plan, no one is entirely sure if the clubhouse will be within the flood plain. As such, city environmental staff did not support this portion of the project, and members of Council expressed reservations that the PUD language associated with this acre of lakeshore land would effectively be a flood plain variance. “I want to be sure nothing in this will be interpreted as superseding our regulations for 25-year flood plains,” said Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo.

Kevin Shunk with the Watershed Protection Department assured the concerned parties that “this does not grant a flood plain variance.”

Another point of contention revolved around the requested mechanized access from the 64 residences to the dock at the bottom of the bluff. Interim Environmental Officer Chris Herrington said he did not believe that since the 2014 Lake Austin Zoning Overlay Ordinance was passed, “variances (for mechanized access to the lake) have been granted that were not resultant of (Americans with Disabilities Act compliance-related) issues.” Although granting this request would present a departure from the city’s current stance, the owner and developer of the property, Jonathan Coon, insisted that the mechanical solution would be as environmentally friendly as possible. The current proposed mechanized access does not include any attachment to the environmentally sensitive rimrock, which has caused great concern among neighbors and staff based on past examples of trams drifting dangerously apart from the cliff face.

The dock, too, caused questions about its expansive length and the amount that it juts out into Lake Austin. Its design will continue to be discussed before the second reading.

Still, the list of superior PUD aspects from staff distinctly outweighed the drawbacks.

“I would like to acknowledge that the applicant has made some substantial improvements,” said Herrington.

Coon listed recent compromises, including not only donating half the lakefront to the Austin Parks Department as permanent parkland but also agreeing to donate $1.5 million for parkland improvement and maintain the park at no cost to the city. He also noted that he agreed to forgo a second 14-acre office site in favor of moving a road south to avoid damaging critical environmental features. Lastly, he emphasized his willingness to make $3.7 million in traffic improvements to City Park Road, Loop 360, RM 2222, Bridge Point Parkway and Courtyard Drive.

“By the very nature of a PUD there are trade-offs involved,” noted Mayor Steve Adler.

Council Member Alison Alter, in whose district this PUD is located, agreed. “The list goes on and on for the list of things we’ve succeeded in negotiating through in this process,” she said. Before she made a motion to pass the first reading, she amended the current iteration of the draft to include a set of recommendations for the second reading.

Coon told the Austin Monitor that he accepts all of Alter’s recommendations. He noted he was happy to continue conversations with stakeholders and Council regarding other recommendations made during the hearing.

The PUD passed the first reading 10-0 with Council Member Leslie Pool absent. The second reading will take place on Nov. 1.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

Lake Austin: Lake Austin is a water reservoir on the Colorado River, and the source of Austin's drinking water. It was created by the 1939 construction of the Tom Miller Dam and is managed by the Lower Colorado River Authority.

Planned Unit Development: A zoning classification designated by the city to allow greater flexibility for projects within its boundaries.

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