Tuesday, February 25, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

City addresses pedestrian access with advancement of zoning request at Graffiti Park site advances

The Colorfield, a 10-unit condominium project located on one of two lots that is home to the now-closed Graffiti Park, is inching closer to redevelopment after roughly two years of site plan review.

City Council approved the zoning request for the site at 1006 Baylor St. from Multifamily Residence – High Density (MF-5-CO-NP) to Multifamily Residence – Highest Density (MF-6-NP) on first reading Thursday. Before second reading, however, Council has directed several city departments to get together to discuss the neighborhood’s need for pedestrian connectivity.

The Planning Commission recommended the rezoning in January under the condition that the applicant agrees to preserve a 25-foot setback on the north side of the property on West 11th Street and keep the property unfenced to allow a possible pedestrian and bike path on the north or south end of the property.

The Old West Austin Neighborhood Association has held several meetings with property owner Bryan Cumby over the past year trying to work out a solution for pedestrian access around the site.

Shawn Shillington of the neighborhood steering committee told the commission last month that he has been pushing for connectivity in the area for a long time. Both east-west and north-south connectivity is severely lacking around the site, he said. In particular, he noted, there is no way to get up or down the hill west of North Lamar Boulevard without going down to Ninth Street or up to 12th Street, where the sidewalks are in poor condition.

Ted Barnhill, chair of the neighborhood steering committee, told Council that residents are willing to support the site plan as long as improved pedestrian access is guaranteed, whether it’s on 11th Street on the north side of the property or in the alleyway to the south.

Alice Glasco, representing the applicant, said the site plan can’t accommodate a path on the north side because there won’t be enough room between the building and the 10-foot utility easement after burying electric power lines. She said the site is sprawling horizontally rather than vertically in order to preserve views of the historic landmark castle on the hill just above the site. Cumby requested the MF-6 zoning to get the additional floor area ratio needed to stretch the 40-foot, 10-unit development across most of the two-third-acre property.

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, however, said the request for access near the utility easement could be an opportunity to attempt adding multiple uses to a utility easement. “We’ve had some of those conversations elsewhere about layering in utility right of way with other uses; this might be an interesting exploration into that end.”

Cumby is requesting an alternative solution that would involve participation from the city. There is an existing 20-foot alleyway between 10th and 11th streets that extends from Blanco Street to the west about halfway to Baylor Street. Glasco said the alleyway presents a great opportunity for the city to consider fixing the neighborhood’s pedestrian access issues.

While the city has previously recommended against providing access along 11th Street due to the slope and the difficulty of meeting accessibility standards, Glasco said the Public Works and Transportation departments have not joined the conversation about the alleyway.

Cumby has offered to pay a share of the costs if the city decided to expand the alleyway to connect to Baylor Street. He’s asking, however, that the city take the lead and pay its share.

“We do support connectivity,” Cumby recently told the Planning Commission. “I’m having a little bit of difficulty with the notion that connectivity is somehow becoming completely my responsibility.”

Council Member Kathie Tovo moved to approve the zoning request without the Planning Commission’s conditions prohibiting fencing and preservation of the 25-foot setback. She said she needs to think about the fence issue further, but she gave additional direction for multiple city departments to collaborate and address options for connectivity on the alleyway as well as explore a cost-sharing option between the developer and the city before second reading.

Tovo’s motion passed in a unanimous vote, with Council Member Greg Casar off the dais.

Council postponed a zoning request for the other half of the Graffiti Park property until April 23 at the request of the applicant.

Photo by Justraveling.com [CC BY-SA 4.0].

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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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