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zoning map of the area

Annexation causes confusion over property zoning at ZAP

Friday, May 24, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Before being annexed into the city of Austin in 1984, the half-acre lot at 9606 Swansons Ranch Road operated as a commercial lot with a gunsmithing business and later a seafood business. After annexation, the parcel of land, which was then zoned Single Family Residence Standard Lot (SF-2), continued to operate commercially, with an auto repair shop being established in 2009 and the most recent owner opening a construction office in 2015.

After the property was purchased in 2015 as the construction office site for Italex Builders, owner John Sanchez immediately renovated the property to alleviate flooding concerns. He installed a sidewalk in front of the building as well as an awning with lights underneath. His updates resulted in a code complaint that unearthed his noncompliant use of the site and landed him in front of the Zoning and Platting Commission on May 21 to ask for a recommendation to bring the site zoning into compliance with its current use.

However, despite the long-standing commercial use of the property, since Swansons Ranch Road today is a mix of commercial and residential uses, city staff did not recommend bringing the site into compliance with its current usage. They instead offered Limited Office Mixed Use (LO-MU) as another zoning suggestion.

Commissioner David King pointed out that LO-MU zoning would prevent Italex Builders from continuing its current operations. Sanchez offered testimony that he bought the land under the assumption that it was for commercial use.

Therefore, with support from the neighborhood and the history of commercial use, the commissioners disagreed with staff’s recommendation and approved general use commercial zoning with a conditional overlay.

“This is someone who just got hamstrung by the annexation process,” said Commissioner Bruce Evans.

Phil Moncada, who was representing Sanchez and his business, Italex Builders, noted that although they were asking for commercial zoning for a construction office, the everyday operations at the site do not include heavy-duty construction materials or high traffic volumes. According to him, there are vehicles from employees as well as two flatbed trailers on-site with the office itself.

Despite the lack of intensity, continued use of the property as is – with the two trailers and a commercial business on-site – would be prohibited under staff’s suggested LO-MU zoning, explained Wendy Rhoades with the Planning and Zoning Department. Staffers justified their zoning recommendation, saying, “It would introduce intensive commercial zoning on a local street.”

Commissioner Ann Denkler pointed out that other properties in the area are being used for commercial enterprises, including a dumpster service and an automotive shop. According to Rhoades, some of these businesses were in existence prior to 1984 and they are now “legal nonconforming.”

Although the majority of the neighbors were in support of the rezoning and no one came to object at the meeting, in the backup materials for the case, citizen comments objecting to the rezoning expressed concerns about traffic. As a through lot, the property does have access to both Swansons Ranch Road and Bilbrook Place. To have full access to both sides, “they may have to obtain additional permits for that,” said Rhoades, who clarified “that is the better option.”

After adding another prohibition to the conditional overlay for adult-oriented services that already contains a laundry list of uses, the commission voted 7-1-1 to approve General Commercial Services (CS) zoning. Denkler voted against the motion and King abstained. Commissioner Nadia Barrera-Ramirez was absent.

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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