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Planning Commission decides how much office is too much office in a neighborhood

Monday, May 20, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

In Central Austin especially, neighborhoods evolve and zonings change. However, change is not always simple.

The two owners of the properties at 1804, 1806 and 1808 W. Sixth St. came before the Planning Commission at its May 14 meeting to request a joint zoning change from single-family to multi-use and limited office.

The two owners – James Lindsey, who owns the shared lot that houses 1806 and 1808 W. Sixth St., and Peter Pfeiffer, who owns 1804 W. Sixth St. – argued that the properties, whose front yards directly face the MoPac Expressway access road, are not suited for single-family residential homes.

“It ain’t residential, it ain’t never been residential really,” Lindsey said.

He explained that for the past several decades, 1806 and 1808 were used as an antique dealership even though they were zoned as single-family. With such a history, Lindsey argued that going forward, “I think we need to encourage small entrepreneurial use of (these) spaces.” The conceptual plan for the two properties he possesses is to remove the existing structures and build a mixed-use development with 4,000 square feet of office space and six residential units with a total of 10,000 square feet. The Historic Landmark Commission has already granted demolition permits.

The property at 1804 will remain as the stacked duplex where Pfeiffer lives, but he told the commission he would like to have zoning that would allow him to rent office space within the existing building.

Pfeiffer told the commissioners that he has tried for years to rent out a portion of his property at 1804, but says “no tenant” has renewed their original lease, as “This is not a place to raise a family.” According to him, not only do families view the property as an unsuitable place to live, but “when I argued with (the Travis Central Appraisal District over property taxes), they said you’re on the south side of the alley, you’re commercial.”

Residents within 200 feet of the property disagreed with this zoning change request. Eleven immediately adjacent homeowners that cover 21.83 percent of the land area within 200 feet of the subject property signed a valid petition on Jan. 29 against the rezoning. In the petition, they state that “The (neighbors) want to maintain a sense of neighborhood and this rezoning request does not promote residential use. Office space and/or mix(ed) use are not desired.”

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.

David Applewhite, who was spearheading the petition, noted that “commercial property at this location would substantially change the nature of our community.” Another neighbor, Paul Seals, explained that in the Old West Austin Neighborhood Plan, properties located in the North 6th Street District are allowed to be rezoned from single-family (SF) zoning to neighborhood office (NO) but not to limited office (LO) like the applicants on this case have requested.

According to city code, NO-zoned offices may not contain more than one use and “site development regulations applicable to an NO district use are designed to preserve compatibility with existing neighborhoods through renovation and modernization of existing structures.” On the other hand, LO-zoned offices may have more than one use and the buildings themselves are only required to be “complementary in scale and appearance with the residential environment.”

Commissioner Patricia Seeger noted that with the character of the area as it is, “the zoning would encourage a live-work situation and would utilize the property.” However, she said that recommending limited office would be “pretty weighted because (the neighbors) have a valid petition.”

With a staff recommendation for a zoning change from single-family to multi-use neighborhood office, a valid petition and a neighborhood plan calling for neighborhood office zoning, the commission voted 10-1 to recommend to Council that the zoning be changed from single-family to multi-use neighborhood office. Commissioner Karen McGraw voted against the motion and Commissioner Richard Mendoza was absent.

Pfeiffer said he hopes the neighbors and Council will view this case not as commercial versus residential, but as a live-work solution that increases density. He emphasized that this discussion can only continue with “fact-based conversations” and “not exaggerations and not bullshit.”

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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