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Garrison Park zoning change wins initial approval

Thursday, August 29, 2019 by Jo Clifton

At last week’s meeting, Council narrowly approved a zoning change to allow six townhomes to be built in the midst of a small single-family neighborhood in South Austin. The vote to change zoning from Family Residence (SF-3) to Urban Family Residence (SF-5) was on first reading only, so the matter will have to come back for approval on second and third reading.

The property at 6501 and 6503 Cannonleague Drive is close to Manchaca Road and William Cannon Drive. Staff opposed the zoning change, arguing that the SF-5 designation allows for construction of townhomes or condominiums “in an existing family residential neighborhood in a centrally located area of the city,” yet this area is not centrally located.

Jim Wittliff, who represented the property owner, told Council that the owner wants to build six townhomes on the property, which currently has two duplexes. Although the existing zoning would allow the owner to subdivide the property, he would still only be allowed to build duplexes, not condominiums.

Wittliff told Council that it is extremely difficult to sell duplexes and that he recently had a bad experience trying to do so. That made no sense to District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen, who argued that duplexes represent the “missing middle” that the city wants for people seeking affordable market-rate housing.

Wittliff said the zoning change would allow the owner to “build the missing middle housing type … what we’re proposing is six individual free-standing small homes that can be sold to families.”

Although no one showed up to oppose the zoning request at Council, nine neighborhood residents gave the Planning Commission written comments indicating their opposition to the change.

Sherry Richardson, who lives on Berkeley Avenue, wrote, “Cannonleague is the only entrance from William Cannon. And it’s the only north/south thoroughfare through our small neighborhood. It will be dangerous. There is already too much street parking with the existing dwellings. Frequently it narrows to one lane due to street parking!! No room for guests for overflow parking without endangering existing residents!!”

Renée Sheikh, who lives on Cannonleague, wrote, “The traffic is bad already with four schools within a mile. I can’t drive out of my driveway without waiting for another car …. It is crowded already on my side on trash day, and you all want to put more housing, adding 8-12 additional trash cans, not counting additional cars. Our street isn’t wide enough.”

Rudolfo Martinez, a resident of Berkeley Avenue, told the commission, “We have been living in our home for 46 years. We have our neighborhood, Garrison Park and the close proximity to schools. Multifamily housing will ruin our neighborhood.”

Mayor Steve Adler made a motion to approve the zoning change with a conditional overlay limiting the half-acre property to six units.

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan always speaks against any zoning that includes a conditional overlay. So even though he supported the underlying zoning change, Flannigan made a motion to remove the conditional overlay, but only Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison supported his amendment.

With Council Member Greg Casar and Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza off the dais, Adler’s motion failed, with only Council members Paige Ellis, Pio Renteria, Harper-Madison and Flannigan joining him in voting for the zoning change. Adler seemed surprised and suggested that the matter be postponed. Kitchen suggested that they should simply wait for Garza and Casar to return.

When the two returned, Adler called the item back up and Flannigan made a motion for the zoning change – including the conditional overlay. This time Garza joined with those in favor of the motion. Council members Kathie Tovo, Leslie Pool, Alison Alter and Kitchen voted against the motion and Casar abstained. He said he was abstaining because he was not on the dais during the discussion. The case will likely return to Council in late September.

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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