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ZAP approves East Austin zoning change with condition

Thursday, July 9, 2020 by Nina Hernandez

At its Tuesday evening meeting, the Zoning and Platting Commission voted to recommend a zoning change at 5601 Nixon Lane. The commission voted in favor of the 4.67-acre property, at the corner of Nixon Lane and FM 969, changing from Community Commercial to Neighborhood Commercial, with a provision excluding service stations from the list of possible uses.

Property owner Mohammad Arami told the commission he applied for the change because it “gives me the opportunity to … build something that really and truly fits the neighborhood.”

Arami said the neighborhood needs office and residential uses. Staffers support the change because it will allow for commercial, residential or mixed-use development on the site, which is consistent with the existing residential and local commercial services that exist around the property.

The new zoning is actually less intense than the current Community Commercial designation.

But the commissioners argued amongst themselves over whether to impose a conditional overlay on the property that would block a service station from being built on the site. There are already multiple nearby gas stations, including one across Nixon Lane to the east.

Commissioner Ana Aguirre said she and her neighbors in East Austin are tired of seeing gas station after gas station built in the area, and that they deserve a more diverse set of services in the area.

“I think we deserve a variety of services,” she said. “I’m also asking on the behalf of equity, us being provided, in East Austin, more diverse options. I think residential, which is sorely needed, would be beneficial.”

Commissioner Bruce Evans urged the commission to recommend the zoning change to Council without the additional conditional overlay, noting that the Agave Neighborhood Association is in favor of the proposed change. He also pointed to the fact that staff voted to recommend the change based on its “fit” with the existing zoning and development in the area.

“We need to move forward with this and not get into all the ‘what ifs’ that are available,” he said.

Commissioner Timothy Bray agreed, saying he felt it would be “an excessive amount of micromanagement” for the commission to put in place a conditional overlay to prohibit a service station from being built on the property. What if, he questioned, the existing gas stations closed down or were redeveloped and there was a need for a gas station on the property in 30 years?

“Let the market (contend) with that,” he said.

He also addressed questions about the potential effects of putting a gas station on a site that is in the 100-year floodplain. “And I would hope and trust that if the gas station would contribute to water quality issues, that that would be dealt with by our water quality regulations,” he said.

Commissioner Ann Denkler argued that limiting the uses by a single one is not “a big deal,” and that the property owner had said he was fine with the limitation.

“What I’ve found is, if you develop as a gas station, you really don’t do anything but that use,” she said. “It’s really expensive to meet the requirements with tanks, etc. So, I don’t see those gas stations going away in 30 years. I’d just rather eliminate the use and the applicant is fine with it.”

Map courtesy of Google Maps.

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