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Wednesday, December 5, 2018 by Alyx Wilson
Old UT Co-op gets an upzoning after being empty for over a year
The University of Texas Law School Foundation owns the building that used to be a retail UT Co-op store on the corner of Medical Arts and Dean Keeton streets (2902 Medical Arts St. and 2901 Hampton Road). The foundation came to the Planning Commission on Nov. 27 hoping to rezone the building from neighborhood commercial (LR-MU-CO-NP) to community commercial (GR-MU-CO-NP) to make it easier to lease the building.
Explaining that the switch to GR would allow the building to be leased out as a medical office, the applicant promised not to change the height or remodel the building. With the current zoning, the nonprofit organization could not strike a deal in leasing the building as a medical office.
Mary Ingle, speaking on behalf of the residential area directly behind the building, argued that the applicant should go through the process of getting a conditional use permit (CUP) so they could do what they wanted with the building without upzoning the plot.
“I just spent the last five years of my life fighting CodeNEXT, and I thought we were supposed to limit the use of conditional overlays,” said Ingle. “I’m sympathetic with the applicant about the cost and the burden of the process, but I really think the CUP process is the right tool.”
Commissioner Conor Kenny asked Ingle why she was opposed to GR zoning, given the proximity to Dean Keeton, which is a major road.
“Actually we’re not looking across the street, we’re looking behind; it’s smack up against residential and you don’t put GR next to residential zoning,” said Ingle.
“You know what happens when you upsell one property; others will follow,” said Commissioner Patricia Seeger.
Commissioner Fayez Kazi guessed that by the end of a CUP process, the foundation could have spent another year trying to lease the building, costing about half a million dollars by the end of it.
“I’m going to channel (Commissioner) Greg Anderson, who is not here. This is another case that shows us we have a broken code and processes that need to be fixed,” said Kazi. “This is Dean Keeton – where else would you have GR?”
In addition to the change from LR to GR, staff recommended removing the use of medical office exceeding 5,000 square feet gross floor area from the list of prohibited uses; remove the provision that listed financial services as a conditional use; and add a restriction of a height of 40 feet, which is equivalent to the current zoning.
Scott Grantham with the Planning and Zoning Department explained to the commission that because medical use exceeding 5,000 square feet was prohibited, the applicant would still need a zoning change even after a CUP process.
After two failed substitute motions attempting to usurp staff’s recommendation, tensions were running high on the dais.
Commissioner James Schissler made a motion to call the question and end the discussion, which didn’t sit well with other commissioners.
“There are other commissioners who would still like to speak to the main motion, and you need a two-thirds vote to call the question,” said Chair James Shieh.
The vote tied 6-6 on calling the question, and the discussion continued.
“This is getting really weird, nitpicky, byzantine for really only our own reasons, and that’s bad policy,” said Kenny.
Eventually, the Planning Commission narrowly voted for staff’s recommendation to approve the GR zoning. The change passed 7-5 with Shieh, Seeger, and commissioners Tracy Witte, Todd Shaw and Karen McGraw opposed. Anderson was absent.
Photo courtesy of Google Maps.
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City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.