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Council overrides staff to OK Blackland rezoning

Tuesday, April 16, 2019 by Jo Clifton

Last Thursday, Council gave final approval to a zoning change that will allow an East Austin property owner to build five units on a lot at 2107 Alamo St., replacing an existing duplex. The vote was 10-1, with Council Member Kathie Tovo opposed.

The project had support from the Blackland Neighborhood Association, the Upper Boggy Creek Neighborhood Plan contact team and District 1 Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, who represents the area. City staff members were opposed to the change because it would conflict with the neighborhood plan.

Nearby neighbors signed a valid petition opposing it, so the change took the support of nine Council members.

The Planning Commission voted in favor of the change, even though Harper-Madison’s predecessor, Ora Houston, lives in the neighborhood and wrote a letter to the commission opposing the higher-density zoning.

Developer Anmol Mehra has promised that one of the units will be dedicated to the Blackland Community Development Corporation to be sold or leased to a family living at 60 percent of the local median family income, or $51,600 for a family of four.

Jada Garrison, who said she was a 15-year resident of the Blackland neighborhood and chair of the neighborhood association’s land use committee, told Council, “This case has been incredibly difficult for many of us in Blackland for the rift that it’s exposed in our neighborhood.”

Among other things, she said she and the others opposing the zoning change were considering “not only our immediate personal concerns, but also bigger-picture questions. First, staff has opposed this rezoning because the MF-4 is spot zoning that far exceeds the zoning that is around the lot and therefore does not function as a transition between our homes and the higher-zoning homes.”

Her neighbor, Austin Dennis, disagreed. He said he lives just a couple of houses down from the lot in question, and noted that the neighborhood association voted to support the project and praised the developer and his representatives for working collaboratively with the neighborhood. He said since the vote last fall there has been a “small minority of neighbors that have sought to interrupt the project despite it having the support of a majority of the neighborhood.” He said the neighborhood voted 23-7 again last week to support the project.

Before making a motion to approve the zoning change, Harper-Madison said, “This is really important to me as we have conversations about zoning changes. Doing nothing offers us the opportunity for this plot to turn into another million-dollar, single-family home. So if we’re talking about neighborhood character, something we absolutely have to address is, do we need another multimillion-dollar McMansion on this lot?”

Council Member Leslie Pool indicated that she was somewhat conflicted about voting against the valid petition. “I respect the neighbors’ opposition to this rezoning. My barometer on these types of projects is determined by looking at the specifics of the project and by reviewing the input from the neighborhood association and the neighborhood plan contact team. Both of those groups support this project. And we’ve heard that here today, and we heard it on first reading.”

In addition, Pool said she was supportive because she knows and trusts Bo McCarver, president of the board of the Blackland Community Development Corporation, which will be overseeing the affordable unit of the project. Glen Coleman represented the developer.

Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.

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