Monday, August 3, 2020 by Nina Hernandez

Planning Commission tackles more Montopolis cases

On Tuesday, the Planning Commission denied two out of three Montopolis area rezoning cases that neighborhood activists railed against back in June.

At the end of June, the commission passed two of the five cases that the Montopolis Neighborhood Plan Contact Team had raised concerns about: 200 Montopolis Drive and 6206 Clovis, and 508 Kemp.

Three others were postponed: 200 Montopolis Drive and 6208 Clovis, 316 Saxon Lane and 6328 El Mirando, and 6201 Clovis Street and 301 Kemp Street. The trio appeared again before the commission on July 28. All three are currently zoned Family Residence (SF-3) and seeking Townhouse & Condominium Residence (SF-6).

Susana Almanza, president of the Montopolis neighborhood team, spoke against the cases, noting that the neighborhood has filed valid petitions against all three.

“Developers are trying to misrepresent the adopted plan,” Almanza said. “We personally participated in the plan and voted to keep strictly SF-3 – nothing higher. We ask that the Austin Planning Commission and Austin City Council respect the adopted Montopolis plan. The Montopolis community is once again being deceived by profit-seeking real estate developers with little to no regard for the community’s fragile natural and cultural environment or its iconic history.”

The first case, a rezoning of 1.32 acres at 200 Montopolis and 6208 Clovis from SF-3 to SF-6, was largely panned by the commission. The application was denied 7-5.

Chair Conor Kenny said it was yet another example of the city needing a new Land Development Code.

“It’s clear that one of the things that is missing from the draft code is a bonus that allows you to convert from an existing SF-3 lot, much like Affordability Unlocked, where if you provide a sufficient level of affordability, then it gets you to a scalable, odd lot-size configuration like SF-6,” Kenny said. “We don’t have that. This area is a very short drive from downtown in a city that has doubled in size since the adoption of this neighborhood plan.”

He continued: “You cannot double the city in size in 20 years and have a close-in neighborhood not have the impact of gentrification.” Still, Kenny said he couldn’t support the rezoning without “substantial community benefit.”

The second case was another request for SF-6 at 316 Saxon Lane and 6328 El Mirando. Staff recommended approval of the application to rezone the 2.9 acres near U.S. Highway 183 and Montopolis.

Applicant agent Victoria Haase said there isn’t much difference between SF-3 and SF-6, and that “ultimately it will lead to a better development.” She said it’s in alignment with the neighborhood plan.

“I heard what Susana Almanza said about different interpretations of neighborhood plan,” Haase said. Regarding the first case, a rezoning of 200 Montopolis and 6208 Clovis, “I will say that while some of these elements are for S.M.A.R.T. growth infill options, what we are trying to do with SF-6 zoning achieves a lot of what those infill options allow. The only difference is we wouldn’t be required to subdivide the property.”

Commissioner Patricia Seeger said that the objections to the first case applied to the second as well, and she made a motion to deny the application. Commissioner Greg Anderson offered a substitute motion to approve the staff recommendation for SF-6.

“This is more homes in an area that is also desperate for homes, an area that’s growing in a city that’s growing and a city that needs housing,” he said. “I understand we heard from some homeowners who oppose the rezoning. What about all the folks who aren’t homeowners yet? Folks who need homes?”

Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido said no one is scared of new families in the neighborhood or more housing. She said she simply wants better development deals for Montopolis that the community gets behind.

The motion to approve staff recommendation passed 7-5.

The third and final case, 6201 Clovis Street and 301 Kemp Street, concerned whether to rezone another 1.16 acres near Montopolis Drive and Highway 183. It was unanimously denied by the commission despite staff recommending the change. Before making the motion, Kenny acknowledged that denying the application would do little to slow gentrification in the area.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

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.

Montopolis: An East Austin neighborhood bounded by Grove Street to the west, Texas State Highway 71 to the south and the Southeast Austin neighborhood and U.S. Route 183 to the east. It is located in District 3.

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