Monday, April 27, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

Compromise reached at Lantana PCA, Environmental Commission recommends project

After postponing its recommendation on the project consent agreement at the Lantana project in Southwest Austin, the Environmental Commission has reached an agreement with the developer and the Save Our Springs Alliance on how to move forward.

On Tuesday, the Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the 35-acre project in Southwest Austin that hopes to add a mixed-use designation in order to add up to 400 residences on the land. City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the Lantana project next week.

Up until now, the main point of contention over the project has stemmed from questions surrounding the murky development rights for the 9.4-acre site at 7415 Southwest Parkway. Four “letter agreements” from the original development agreement defined the property’s vested rights under regulations dating back to the 1980s, but these entitlements were not actively tracked or reviewed either by the city or the landowner.

Questions about impervious cover entitlements arose when the project developer, Stratus, sought to pursue a mixed-use residential project rather than office space on part of the site. If there were no changes requested for the project, the site is permitted under its vested rights to have 60 percent impervious cover. But that is less clear with the current request before the city.

“I’m thinking that it’s likely that they may be over impervious cover limits,” Atha Phillips, the environmental program coordinator, said at the commission’s March 4 meeting. “We don’t really know because we don’t have the documentation.”

Both city staff and the Save Our Springs Alliance recommended lowering the amount of allowed impervious cover.

In an effort to compromise with city staff and the Save Our Springs Alliance, Michael Whellan, who is the developer agent for Stratus, agreed to donate an additional 3 acres of land from the property and limit the aggregate impervious cover on the site to 49 percent. At the same meeting, SOS Alliance attorney Bobby Levinski pushed for Stratus to adhere to the current SOS Ordinance code, in which the allowable impervious cover for a site is 25 percent of the net site area.

At a March 4 hearing, Whellan said, “We have agreed with SOS to work toward achieving 25 percent impervious cover on a net site area basis for this area.”

To accomplish this reduction in impervious cover, Whellan said Stratus will donate 6.3 acres of adjacent land – 3.2 acres will become a local park and 3.1 acres will be left as undisturbed natural area to meet the Hill Country Roadway Ordinance. Another undetermined parcel of land will be dedicated as parkland to offset the rest of the impervious cover on the mixed-use residential tract. The location and additional amount of land will be memorialized in the finalization of the project consent agreement.

Levinski called the negotiations “very collaborative” and said, “We don’t want to impede this development from moving forward.”

Nor did the Environmental Commission. In a unanimous 6-0 vote, the commission recommended that Council create a PCA for the site with the condition that the total impervious cover is retained at 25 percent for the tract and that 3.1 acres of the donated land will be allocated to satisfy the Hill Country Roadway Ordinance. Commissioners Andrew Creel, Mary Ann Neely, Wendy Gordon, Ryan Nill, and Curtis Smith were absent.

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

City of Austin Environmental Commission: An advisory board to members of the Austin City Council. Its purview includes "all projects and programs which affect the quality of life for the citizens of Austin." In many cases, this includes development projects.

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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