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ZAP endorses Camelback PUD

Tuesday, October 9, 2018 by Alyx Wilson

For more than two hours, 25 Austinites spoke in support of or in opposition to, or expressed a neutral stance on, a new planned unit development known as the Camelback PUD at the most recent meeting of the Zoning and Platting Commission. The PUD is located on the Lake Austin riverfront, north of the Austin 360 Bridge, and includes the piece of land best known as the Austin 360 Overlook. The District 10 property has been zoned as a PUD since 1987 but has yet to be approved for development.

In the end, commissioners voted to recommend the development 6-2-2 with commissioners Betsy Greenberg and Ann Denkler voting in opposition and commissioners David King and Jolene Kiolbassa abstaining from the vote. Commissioner Abigail Tatkow was absent.

“For those of us who have stepped through a couple of PUDs before on this commission, to have this many people come in and say, ‘Hey folks, we really like this’ – it’s an amazing thing,” said Commissioner Bruce Evans.

The meeting began with the two warring sides debating whether or not to postpone the hearing.

“The 300-page package was filed late Friday afternoon. A lot of it was totally illegible even if you blew it up. Our normal process is to go to Planning and Zoning, get a clear copy, run it through the copier and then try to make sense of it – and that was not possible before this meeting,” said Bunny Run Neighborhood Association President Lyra Bemis.

Bunny Run is a neighborhood south of the Colorado River. Many of its residents sit directly across the river from where the PUD will be developing.

Linda Bailey, treasurer of the Lake Austin Collective, came first to speak in favor of not postponing the hearing. She invited those in support of the hearing to join her at the front. The majority of the room stood and well overcrowded the podium area before the dais.

“Jonathan Coon has changed plans to accommodate neighbors. I don’t know many developers who would be willing to do something like that. He plans to be our neighbor,” said Marisa Lipscher, a representative of the Shepherd Mountain Neighborhood Association. Coon, of Loop 360 Land LP, is a resident of the land and the developer behind the Camelback PUD.

Planning and Zoning Department Assistant Director Jerry Rusthoven explained to the commission that the PUD was on a tight deadline. Coon is working to purchase the controversial Champion tract 3 as part of the development plan and his offer on that tract will expire on Nov. 2. It is imperative that the Camelback PUD be approved in order for Coon to buy and include Champion tract 3 in the project.

Commissioners opted to move forward with the case in a vote of 6-4 with Kiolbassa, King, Denkler and Greenberg opposing.

The Camelback PUD plan currently consists of 64 new homes, office and commercial space, a senior living center, and over 80 acres of open space and parkland. Austinites and neighbors of Camelback can expect a new restaurant, a clubhouse at the top of the hill overlooking the river and a large boat dock with 42 new boat slips, with one access point for residents from the clubhouse so as to not litter the bluff with various staircases.

Supporters boasted that the PUD would include a new road that would make the neighborhood safer when it comes to fire emergencies (faster for the Fire Department to get there, a faster way out for residents in case of forest fire), as well as reduce traffic. Coon also plans to make the iconic Austin 360 overlook into an official city park with 25 new parking spaces in an attempt to decrease the amount of illegal parking that occurs on the side of highway near the 360 Bridge.

Coon’s commitment to designating the area as a park means sacrificing 50 percent of his waterfront land, but said that he recognizes the importance of the landmark and was happy to do that.

“My wife and I purchased the property, but we like to think of ourselves as stewards of the land more than developers,” said Coon.

Those who were in support of the PUD felt that the opposition from across the river came from those who were more concerned for their views from their backyards than anything else, and argued that the neighborhoods who were most directly and physically affected by the PUD were those who were in support of it.

Those who spoke in opposition voiced concerns regarding possible sewage leaks from the boat dock to the lake water, the danger of building and the possible increase of falling rock, and the fact that the clubhouse would be located on a 100-year flood plain, as well as other environmental concerns.

The main pushback from the south side of the river surrounded the issue of the large boat dock in the PUD plans.

Environmental Officer Chris Herrington explained to the commission that while the proposed 17,000-plus-square-foot dock did meet current code for length and width, there was debate on what would be the best policy decision on how far out exactly the dock would sit from the shoreline.

Bailey spoke in support of the project, and she presented a video showing documents of eight homeowners associations that represented over 2,800 homes that signed letters endorsing the Camelback PUD. Bailey said that the Austin Neighborhoods Council also endorsed the PUD, which represents 83 neighborhoods in the city.

King, Kiolbassa and Greenberg were some of those who were against the idea of mechanized access from the clubhouse to the boat dock, but the motion to oppose it failed, leaving the option of an 8- by 8-foot, Americans with Disabilities Act-accessible, inclined elevator up for debate.

“I just can’t imagine marring that beautiful vista with an inclined elevator,” said Greenberg.

King was also concerned with the lack of talk of affordable housing being included in the PUD.

“We fully expect affordable housing to come up at City Council; we’re very supportive of doing that,” Coon said.

Commissioner Nadia Barrera-Ramirez made a motion seconded by Greenberg to recommend that the applicant pay into a fund for affordable housing, which would be used later on. The motion passed unanimously.

Greenberg was one of several commissioners to comment on how the PUD was not necessarily “environmentally superior,” with consideration to the request for a large increase in impervious cover.

Lipscher commented in her testimony during the public hearing that the neighborhood’s experience with Camelback was a much more positive one than the earlier deal with Champion tract 3.

“Coon is setting a new example for developers, and we would like some positive reinforcement,” said Lipscher.

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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