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Camelback tract

Camelback PUD project receives final approval from Council

Friday, November 2, 2018 by Jessi Devenyns

When it comes to approving a highly visible planned unit development on an iconic piece of Austin property, it’s not going to be an easy decision. After all, the devil is in the details.

On Thursday night, after several hours of discussion to parse out the legal language associated with the Camelback PUD and Champion tract 3, the City Council approved both projects. The approval came quickly on the heels of the first reading in October.

Although unusual, the reason for this compressed timeline was that Jonathan Coon, the owner and developer of Camelback, a 145-acre property located just to the north of the Austin 360 bridge, had also put in an offer on the nearby Champion tract. In order for many concessions made for the Camelback tract to be honored, Coon said that it was imperative that he purchase the second tract of land.

“The funds to acquire Champion’s tract are sitting in escrow,” Jeff Howard, Coon’s lawyer on the project reminded Council. The option period for the Champion tract expires Nov. 2, just hours after the final approval vote.

The project has been in negotiation for months. City Council was tasked with approving the case before a site plan has even been submitted for evaluation. Not having a clear image of what the development will look like led to myriad questions from Council members who were trying to balance environmental concerns with the overall development.

“This is the problem when you don’t have a site plan up front and you’re voting on entitlements,” said Tom Burns, a resident of nearby neighborhood Bunny Run and a vocal opponent to the plan.

Nevertheless, with hundreds of people and nine neighborhood associations signing their support for the project, Council Member Jimmy Flannigan noted that perhaps that meant that Council’s work has already been done. “When an applicant and a neighborhood agrees to something … I’m told I can’t touch it,” he said.

Even so, there were final amendments coming to the dais throughout the evening in an effort to address the concerns expressed from all sides surrounding the proposed 576-foot-long boat dock, the associated clubhouse, and the trams to access the lakefront.

While some neighbors who offered their comments to Council suggested a subterranean tunnel – which Coon said he took as a serious request and estimated costs to be around $20 million – and limits to the square footage or the dock and the clubhouse, in the end all parties settled on the original compromise that was worked out in draft three of the ordinance.

Coon commented that the entire project was a compromise and that to understand how the plan has developed, Council needed to take a step back out of the details and look at the overall picture. “Sometimes it feels like we look at one part of the elephant and don’t look at the whole,” he said.

Looking at the whole, Council agreed that the project was in the best interests of Austin and approved it. Council Member Kitchen was the only dissenting voice.

“I remain disturbed about the environmental impact,” she offered as an explanation for her vote.

The second part to this equation is Champion tract 3, which Howard assured Council that they would see again when it comes before them as a rezoning case to be rezoned from multifamily to congregate living in an attempt to reduce future traffic to the area.

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