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ZAP commissioners recommend zoning change for affordable senior living

Tuesday, May 12, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

The developer DMA Companies hopes to rezone a 4.5-acre site at 6306 McNeil Drive to Medium-Density Multifamily Residence (MF-3) from the existing Interim Rural Residence (I-RR) zoning. The change will allow for the construction of 147 affordable senior living units on what was once a single-family lot.

With support from Planning and Zoning staff and a promise from the developer that 81 percent of the units will be at or below 80 percent median family income, the Zoning and Platting Commission unanimously recommended the zoning change at its May 5 meeting.

In total, there will be 36 two-bedroom units and 111 one-bedroom units. Of those units, 12 will be available at 30 percent MFI, 12 more will be rented at 40 percent MFI, 43 will be on the market at 50 percent MFI, 40 units will be set at 60 percent MFI, 13 units will be available at 80 percent MFI, and the remaining 27 will be market rate apartments.

Although the commission voted in favor of the rezoning, Commissioner David King noted that the guarantee for the affordability of the units will only last for five years, which he called “a blink of an eye.”

Alex Radke with the city’s Neighborhood and Community Development Department confirmed that the developer is only obligated to provide affordability for five years. “After that, it will be up to the owners what will happen to those units,” she said.

Offering this level of affordability puts the development in a category that meets the city’s SMART Housing standards, which allow a developer to take a federal tax credit and offset up to 9 percent of its federal tax liability. The program will also provide fee waivers for the 120 affordable units at the site.

Although no one objected to the affordability goals of the project, several community members called in to speak against the zoning change due to the project’s location.

David DuBois told commissioners he lives nearby and that both transportation and retail are limited. He noted that retail is over half a mile away and the nearest bus stop is two-thirds of a mile from the proposed site, making mobility difficult. He said that due to a lack of sidewalks, “The location is not walkable or particularly bikeable.”

A letter from Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in the backup explained that the Project Connect plan includes a bus rapid transit station that will serve the complex at the intersection of Parmer Lane and McNeil Drive, half a mile away. There was no date listed for its implementation.

Leah Bojo, speaking on behalf of the applicant, told the commission the developer will provide sidewalks to increase mobility. However, Commissioner Jim Duncan claimed his senior status, saying that from personal experience, sidewalks will not define the desirability of this location for residents. “I can’t walk anymore, so sidewalks won’t do them any good (either),” he said.

Other citizens sent in letters of objection noting that access to the site was difficult as there is only one entrance and traffic patterns on McNeil Drive require U-turns to change directions.

However, Janine Sisak, the senior vice president and general counsel for DMA Companies, told the commission that since residents will be seniors, they will not generally be combating traffic at peak hours. Additionally, she said the number of times senior residents will exit the premises in a vehicle will be limited. “Seniors typically don’t take multiple car trips a day,” she said.

Bojo said that in addition to providing housing for seniors, the project will help Austin meet its affordability goals. The Austin Strategic Housing Blueprint calls for 63,201 housing units for households between 0 and 80 percent MFI.

“We think this is an excellent site, and we know a lot of people who are very excited about this project,” she said.

Commissioner Duncan agreed, saying the choice of land for the project was a wise selection to provide housing for seniors who already live in North Austin and are looking to age in place.

Commissioners Nadia Barrera-Ramirez and Jolene Kiolbassa were absent.

Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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