Monday, July 15, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Planning Commission offers no recommendation on mobile home rezoning in airport overlay zone

Despite a City Council directive to identify mobile home parks with improper zoning and work toward aligning the zoning and the use on sites, in some instances city staff identified mobile home zoning as inappropriate and withdrew those sites from consideration.

At Council’s direction, however, Palm Harbor mobile home park at 810 Bastrop Highway returned to the Planning Commission for consideration July 9, with a staff recommendation not to recommend rezoning the site from General Commercial Services (CS) to Mobile Home Residence (MH), as the site is within the Airport Overlay Zone.

The Airport Overlay Zone is a buffer between properties that are affected by noise from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and land where new housing and schools may be built.

The commission found itself at a crossroads as to whether to follow Council direction or staff recommendation. Instead, members voted unanimously to send the case forward to Council with no recommendation on the matter.

With the property located within the buffer zone, commissioners were divided on whether introducing the zoning would violate Federal Aviation Administration restrictions on development in the area. At the same time, they expressed concerns about protecting the 40 homeowners who currently live in a legal, nonconforming mobile home park.

“I don’t believe that we should put new residential zoning onto this property. I do think, however, mobile homes should be protected,” Commissioner Patricia Seeger said.

No new residential units are permitted in the third ring of the Airport Overlay Zone in order to protect people from noise pollution and other hazards associated with living near an airport. Jennifer Williams with the Department of Aviation told the Austin Monitor that the prohibition on new residential development is also intended to preserve the $53 million in FAA grant money the city received to relocate and keep residents out of the first two rings of the Airport Overlay Zone. She clarified that residents inside the third zone of the Airport Overlay are permitted to stay, but that no redevelopment of the site to single-family zoning can occur, nor can additional mobile homes be introduced to the existing mobile home park – which changing the zoning to residential would effectively accomplish.

In agreement with city staff, the Department of Aviation formally recommended against rezoning this property to a mobile home residential use.

Commissioners, however, were concerned that not adjusting the zoning to align with use would risk the mobile home park residents’ security.

“Leaving it as CS (General Commercial Services) zoning does provide the opportunity for it to be redeveloped to CS,” Commissioner Conor Kenny said. He qualified his statement with the acknowledgement that at this particular property alongside U.S. Highway 183, commercial use is “appropriate.”

Heather Chaffin with the Planning and Zoning Department told the Austin Monitor via email, “By not rezoning to mobile home, the units stay as a legal non-conforming use, and they are not able to add any additional units to the site.”

With 30 million passengers expected to pass through the Austin airport by 2030, Commissioner Greg Anderson said he was concerned that the increased volume of traffic both in the air and on the highway parallel with the property would be incongruous with a residential land use. He explained that, as the director of community affairs for Habitat for Humanity, he was uncomfortable putting one of the nonprofit’s commercial warehouses in the district due to noise concerns, and that allowing residential use in the area seemed unwise.

Still, the mobile home park remains an affordable housing option in the Montopolis neighborhood and the neighborhood contact team supported the zoning change. In a letter to the commission, Susana Almanza, president of the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan Contact Team, encouraged not only rezoning the property, but suggested that the city “use Affordable Housing Bond Funds to purchase Palm Harbor Mobile Home Park  … to safeguard the residents.”

Kate Clark with the Planning and Zoning Department told the commission that although the zoning is incompatible with the use, there is no legal threat to the mobile home residents if they continue to stay on their property. Since the mobile home park has existed for nearly 40 years it is considered a legal, nonconforming use.

With no imminent danger to the residents of Palm Harbor and uncertainty around how best to continue the use without violating regulations of the Airport Overlay Zone, the commission voted unanimously to send the case to Council with no recommendation, in hopes of prompting further discussion.

Commissioners Patrick Howard and Carmen Llanes-Pulido were absent.

Map courtesy of Google Maps.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Planning Commission: This commission addresses issues of land use as assigned to it by Austin's City Code. These include the abilities "[t]o make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements." It has sovereign authority, or the right to make final decisions on certain cases.

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