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Old UT Co-op may become medical offices

Tuesday, December 18, 2018 by Jack Craver

The former University Co-op building on the corner of Medical Arts and Dean Keeton streets may soon be home to doctors’ offices and banks after City Council voted to rezone the property to allow medical uses and financial services.

Following a recommendation by city staff and the Planning Commission, Council voted 7-4 to change the property’s zoning from Neighborhood Commercial (LR) to Community Commercial (GR). As a result of the change, the University of Texas Law Foundation, which owns the property, will be able to lease the building to medical practices.

The prohibition on medical uses in the building had made it hard to attract tenants, said Pam Madere, an agent for the foundation. The property, after all, sits right between two major medical facilities: Dell Medical School and St. David’s Medical Center.

Madere also asked that Council allow the site to include tenants offering financial services, although she stressed that the site would under no circumstance have a drive-through ATM.

“These two uses are very important to the foundation to continue the good work that they’re doing, contributing scholarships,” she said.

Objecting to the zoning change was Mary Ingle, a former head of the Austin Neighborhoods Council who was speaking on behalf of the Central Austin Neighborhood Planning Advisory Committee.

Ingle said that she and others on the committee don’t oppose the uses envisioned by the foundation, but they don’t believe it’s necessary to rezone the property. They could achieve the same objective by seeking a conditional use permit, she said. The new zoning will provide other entitlements to the property, such as increased impervious cover and floor area ratio, that aren’t necessary.

Ingle also pointed out that there are single-family residences on Hampton Road, right next door.

“It’s not good planning to place two (zoning) categories smack up against each other in this fragile area,” said Ingle.

Ingle said it would not be difficult for the applicant to get a conditional use permit. It would only be problematic, she said, if transportation staff determined that the applicant needed to make improvements to the infrastructure “for basic health and safety.”

“The safety of the university community should be a high priority for this Council,” she said.

Madere said she would “respectfully disagree” with Ingle’s characterization of the conditional use permitting process, calling it “incredibly expensive and cumbersome.”

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo tried to broker a compromise by offering an amendment to the recommended upzoning that would allow the property to have the two desired uses yet keep in place the more restrictive site development regulations. The foundation would therefore not be able to increase the impervious cover, FAR or height of the building.

Madere replied that while none of the proposed restrictions would complicate the foundation’s immediate plans, she suggested that may be an option it would want available in the future.

“This does seem to be an appropriate location for GR,” she said.

Tovo’s amendment failed 4-7, with Council members Leslie Pool, Ora Houston and Alison Alter in support. A moment later, Council approved the rezoning and the vote was the reverse, with those four Council members in dissent.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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