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Zoning for affordable housing wins initial approval

Monday, April 29, 2019 by Jo Clifton

With Council Member Greg Casar leading the way, Council voted unanimously Thursday to give first-round approval to rezoning a tract at 916 and 918 Norwood Park Blvd. for 228 affordable housing units in District 4.

Members of the Heritage Hills Woodbridge Neighborhood Association were initially opposed to the project, which did not match the vision of a mixed-use property as seen in the neighborhood plan, and had gathered enough signatures for a valid petition.

However, Courtney Graham, president of the neighborhood group, told Council that neighbors changed their position “after Council Member Casar used his incredible mediation skills” to get agreement from the developer for a list of items that would make the project more attractive to the neighborhood.

The neighbors were looking for what Graham described as a true mixed-use project, which is not what the developer was proposing. Graham presented Council with a list of six items she said the neighborhood and the developer should agree to before the next reading. At the top of the list is no access from the property to Rundberg Lane, followed by allowing neighborhood residents to use amenities on the property. Graham told the Austin Monitor the amenities would include a swimming pool, children’s playground, exercise room and a meeting room to be used for neighborhood meetings.

In addition, neighbors are asking the developer to promise not to exceed the current planned 228 units and to provide 400 or more standard parking spaces to prevent apartment residents and their guests from parking near single-family residences, churches or along adjacent streets.

Neighbors are also requesting what they described as “significant landscaping including a vegetative screen barrier and trees” along Rutherford to hide parking lots, prevent light pollution into the neighborhood and provide “an aesthetically pleasing view to neighbors,” according to the document Graham provided to Council.

Graham and her neighbors want the concessions to be included in “a legally binding and enforceable instrument that runs with the land.” They will be seeking advice from Casar’s office as to how they might do that.

Graham told Council, “We are here today to ask each of you to approve this development subject to the conditions and the concessions” on the list. “And we’re frankly excited that with those concessions the neighborhood will have some amenities to utilize and it will unify the neighborhood as a whole.”

Steven Buffum of Costello Inc., who represents the developer LDG Development, said, “So early on, when the notifications went out, we found out that the neighborhood was opposed to a particular project of just residential in the area …. We made a concerted effort to meet with the neighborhood and start hearing their concerns directly and attempt to formulate some sort of reconciliation.” He said they had made progress, but when asked directly whether the developer had committed to all of the items on the neighborhood’s list, he said they had not agreed to them yet.

Casar, on the other hand, said, “We’re pretty close to this level of agreement.” He said there was nothing on the list that had not been tentatively agreed to, adding, “I think we can get this wrapped up pretty expeditiously.”

Jerry Rusthoven, assistant director of the Planning and Zoning Department, told the Monitor that the city’s Transportation Department might not agree to preventing access from the complex to Rutherford Lane.

In addition to the items that the neighborhood is requesting from the developer, they also had a number of requests for the city. The first item on that list was to use funds paid to the city by the developer to assist in expanding the North Acres Greenbelt and possibly connecting to Gus Garcia District Park on Rutherford. They are also requesting restoration of the clock tower in Norwood Park, traffic calming devices and assistance dealing with transient residents and homeless encampments in the neighborhood.

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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