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Despite neighborhood objections Planning Commission approves increasing density for East Austin project

Monday, April 15, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

On the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Tillery Street, single-family homes meet higher-density residential developments. Although this tenuous balance between property usage has been negotiated for decades, there remains a line between the two districts.

Finding that fine line was the challenge at the April 8 meeting of the Planning Commission. City staffers were in support of changing the zoning at 3300 and 3302 East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from SF-3 to SF-5, thereby allowing for a higher density of housing on the 0.47-acre property.

SF-3 zoning allows for a maximum of four structures on the property. However, because this property does span the line between single-family homes and high-density residential properties, staff worked with the applicant to compromise and cap the density at six homes.

Still, local residents did not support the zoning change and came before the commission with a valid petition request to clarify their reasoning. If 20 percent or more of landowners within 200 feet of a property oppose a rezoning, a supermajority (or nine members) of Council must approve the rezoning for it to take effect. The petition against the zoning change on these properties stands at 20.95 percent. Residents explained that rezoning the corner property was going to bring increased density and more traffic to an already dangerous intersection.

“This buildout that is being proposed here is going to exacerbate that problem,” said Dan Daniels, who was speaking on behalf of the J.J. Seabrook Neighborhood Association.

Hector Avila, who was representing the property owners, noted that the project had already relinquished its right to take access from MLK. Instead, there will only be one access from Tillery Street.

Additionally, he told the commissioners that “he tried to be reasonable with the neighborhood” and had worked with the owner to reach an agreement where there would be five homes on the property instead of the six allowed by the conditional overlay. He also noted that the houses would be only two stories tall instead of three, as citizens testified. Avila underscored the fact that he had worked diligently with the owner to compromise with the neighborhood; his original zoning request was for an SF-6 condo regime.

As for keeping the zoning SF-3, which allows four homes, he said, “A lot of people should have been more involved if they didn’t want us to have high-density SF there.” According to Avila, the plan for the redevelopment of the site has been ongoing and public for two years. The neighborhood future land use map shows the high-density single-family housing was intended to be on the north side of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

Commissioner Greg Anderson noted that density is something that citizens should be fighting for instead of against to increase affordability. “This site makes all the sense in the world to have as many homes (as possible) on the site,” he said.

The commission voted unanimously to recommend the approval of the zoning change. Commissioners Karen McGraw, Robert Schneider, Patricia Seeger, Richard Mendoza and William Burkhardt were absent.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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