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Despite road plans, Council OKs zoning

Friday, November 2, 2018 by Jo Clifton

Council rejected recommendations of the city’s zoning and transportation staff and the Zoning and Platting Commission at Thursday’s meeting, granting on first reading a request for commercial and mixed-use zoning on a northeast Austin property at 9100 Brown Lane. The vote was 10-0, with Council Member Leslie Pool off the dais.

The property owner, Justin Hartz of LDG Development, wants to build 124 apartment units on the eight-acre tract, which is slated to be divided when the extension of Rundberg Lane is finally built. That factor caused city planning staff and transportation planners to reject the idea of housing on both sides of the tract.

However, engineer Steven Buffum, speaking on behalf of the applicant, pointed out that the Housing Authority of Austin owns the property just to the west of the property to be rezoned and plans to build a 263-unit multifamily development for renters earning 50 to 60 percent of the median family income, or MFI.

The Brown Lane property would provide residences for the “missing middle,” he said. “The future extension of Rundberg has always been in the calculus,” Buffum said. “What you see in front of you is a carefully thought out site plan that allows for Rundberg to come through the site and gives it a little bit of flexibility. We understand that Rundberg is at a 30 percent design stage, with 60 percent not expected to be completed until as late as 2024, and that’s just in design.

Buffum said the right-of-way coming through the tract presents an extreme hardship, so the engineers are trying “to accommodate the right-of-way by going ultra dense.” He said each side of the tract would have its own office, so when the road comes through each side can operate independently.

Buffum also said that he expects the Housing Authority to operate 51 percent of the units on the tract at 80 percent MFI. The remainder would be rented at market rate. Some people living in the units just to the west of the Brown Lane property may start earning enough money to become ineligible for those units and they would then be able to move over into the units on Brown Lane, he said.

The property sits in Council Member Ora Houston’s district, but just across the street from the property to be rezoned is Council Member Greg Casar’s district.

Houston expressed some skepticism about whether people living in her district could afford to rent units at 80 percent MFI because the median family income in the district is so much lower than it is in most of the rest of the city. She also pointed out that the area lacks a place to buy healthy food within walking distance.

Eric Bollich, Transportation Department managing engineer, told Council the extension of Rundberg has been “envisioned since approximately 1995 when it was adopted in the Austin Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan.” He explained that using money from 2010 and 2016 bonds, the city has enough money to bring the project to 60 percent of the design stage. When the Austin Monitor asked Bollich when transportation planners expected the project to be completed, he said he didn’t know.

Casar said he had confirmed HACA’s interest in partnering with the developer on the property and made a motion to grant the CS-MU requested by the developer. He expressed hope that the developer would get together with the transportation staff between first and second reading to try to work out their differences.

After the meeting, Buffum and Transportation Department engineers immediately started talking in the City Hall atrium.

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