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Planning Commission approves Nuckols Crossing zoning change

Tuesday, August 4, 2020 by Nina Hernandez

At its Tuesday night meeting, the Planning Commission approved a zoning change for 4500 Nuckols Crossing from Single-Family Residence – Standard Lot (SF-2)  to Multifamily Residence – Moderate-High Density (MF-4) with a conditional overlay removing all the MF-4 entitlements except for height.

The project, at St. Elmo and Nuckols Crossing, would create 179 “deeply affordable” housing units for seniors (55 years and older). The project is S.M.A.R.T. housing-certified and is due $22 million in bond funding. The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs restricts the land use for a minimum of 30 years, and the city’s Rental Housing Development Assistance Program requires a minimum 40-year affordability period.

The project has been working its way through the commission since 2018. Neighbors have raised concerns about environmentally sensitive areas on the site, as well as the lack of infrastructure on Nuckols Crossing. Staff initially declined to recommend the change based on those safety concerns, but the applicant went back to the drawing board for two years and found a way to allow for safer access to Nuckols Crossing.

Earlier this month, the Southeast Combined Neighborhood Plan Contact Team implored the commission to give it more time to prove that Nuckols Crossing is “substandard” and not the place for a development of this magnitude.

“I just want to point out that affordable senior development provides less vehicle trips than an apartment development,” said Ron Thrower, agent for the applicant. “And in the end, something’s going to get developed on this property and access will happen. I think that the solution that’s been provided for what could be done to Nuckols Crossing to accommodate this traffic mitigation is a good choice.”

The applicant asked the commission to grant MF-4 so it could take advantage of the 60-foot maximum height.

Commissioner Awais Azhar motioned to approve the applicant’s request for MF-4. Chair Conor Kenny made a substitute motion for MF-4 with a conditional overlay that would restrict all entitlements to MF-2 except for height.

Commissioner Greg Anderson objected to using a conditional overlay. Instead, he urged the commission to approve the initial motion to approve the applicant’s request for full MF-4.

“COs are awful,” he said. “They’re their own little zoning category and a whole other thing to worry about. Let’s be done with COs; they make absolutely no sense.”

Commissioner Rob Schneider said that while he appreciated the concerns that the neighborhood raised about traffic and safety, he also wanted to note that Austin has one of the fastest-growing senior populations in the country, and those seniors will need places to live.

“I don’t know of another affordable senior housing property in 78744,” he said. “There are plenty across I-35 in 45, but I don’t know of any in 44. As people in this neighborhood age, ideally they get to live where they’ve always lived, and they get to move down the street to a senior housing facility where they can be near their neighbors and friends.”

He said he would like to urge the applicant and City Council to find ways to improve walkability, but other than that, “it’s a good motion and I support it.”

Map courtesy of Google Maps.

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