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Planning Commission recommends a commercial zoning change in the heart of Brentwood

Monday, January 6, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Commercial enterprises are sprinkled throughout Brentwood, a residential neighborhood in North-Central Austin. However, the request for a zoning change to turn a residential home into a real estate office brought concerned residents to the Dec. 10 meeting of the Planning Commission to oppose the project.

Bill Spiesman, from the Brentwood Neighborhood Plan Contact Team, told commissioners that the proposed location at 2106 Payne Ave. is an inopportune spot for commercial operations. He listed concerns with parking and traffic, delivery and trash trucks arriving outside business hours, and the opposition of the neighborhood to further encroachment of commercial into residential as reasons for the Planning Commission to deny the zoning change.

“I wish it wasn’t happening to the neighborhood; however, it is in line with the new plan for Austin,” Commissioner Patricia Seeger said, adding, “with the downgrade to neighborhood office (zoning) I think it’s more compatible.” The commission agreed, voting 10-1 to recommend the zoning change from single-family to neighborhood office/mixed-use. Commissioner Carmen Llanes-Pulido voted against the motion and commissioners Claire Hempel and Patrick Howard were absent.

The applicant and future property occupant, Daniel McFarland with ARCH Properties, had previously requested a zoning change from single-family to limited office, but following discussions with the neighborhood, he agreed to a less intensive zoning for the site. This zoning change coupled with a mixed-use designation, according to Kate Clark with the Planning and Zoning Department, will allow the property to continue as residential if the real estate office disappears.

“This hopefully meets the neighborhood halfway,” McFarland said.

In response to concerns about trash pickup, McFarland said the intent is to use city-provided refuse collection services, as the rest of the neighborhood does. There are no plans to expand to dumpster pickup services. He also said there will generally be no more than a single employee on-site, so traffic should not dramatically increase. McFarland added that future employee capacity is not likely to expand greatly. “We currently have no designs on expanding the current structures that are there,” he said.

To allay the worries from the neighborhood about increased development, Commissioner James Shieh pointed out that a redevelopment project will need to return to the Planning Commission for consideration, at which point neighborhood compatibility would be reassessed.

Staff recommended the zoning change. However, ex officio member Don Leighton-Burwell, who chairs the Board of Adjustment, called the recommendation a “flawed” approach. He said staff “cherry-picked less important goals for justification for their position.”

Staff members based their support on an evaluation of Imagine Austin planning principles which say that commercial and mixed-use development are appropriate on activity corridors. “The property is located within 250 feet of Burnet Road, which is a commercial corridor that is designated as an activity corridor in the Imagine Austin Comprehensive Plan,” according to the backup.

Leighton-Burwell countered, “The heart of the Brentwood plan is the preservation of the (single-family zoning).”

McFarland assured commissioners and neighbors that he had no intention of changing the character of the property. “I definitely want to be good neighbors and be there for a long time,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps.

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