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Warehouse zoning hits snag at Council

Tuesday, September 1, 2020 by Jo Clifton

What seemed like a simple zoning case, with neighbors supporting the proposed zoning change, was embroiled in a philosophical and legal discussion at last week’s City Council meeting. Council voted unanimously to postpone the case after Council Member Jimmy Flannigan questioned whether city staffers had added too many prohibited uses to the zoning change request.

Jeffrey Spector, president of This Old Wood, which offers reclaimed lumber for flooring and furniture, purchased a 9.41-acre property at 13313 Old Gregg Lane, at the intersection of East Howard Lane. That’s not far from the larger intersection of Dessau Road and Howard Lane. The property is in District 1, represented by Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison.

According to Spector’s representative, Jim Wittliff of Land Strategies Inc., Spector plans to build a 6,000- to 8,000-square-foot warehouse on the property for his wood salvaging business. In addition, he plans to build one residence on the property as an accessory use. Before last Thursday’s meeting, Wittliff was informed that the item would be approved on consent and his presence would not be necessary. That, however, was not the case.

Wittliff told the Austin Monitor on Monday he had told city staff his client only needed the “office warehouse” use allowed under Warehouse Limited Office (W/LO) zoning. “They took it to mean we’ll just CO (conditional overlay) everything else …. That’s the old style that the city wanted followed,” he said. “You get your minimal zoning for what you need.”

So in his zoning change application there was a request to change zoning from RR (Rural Residence) to W/LO with a conditional overlay to prohibit a wide array of uses starting with bed-and-breakfast and ending with safety services.

Flannigan, who often opposes conditional overlays, said he had no particular issue with the placement of the lumberyard on the property, but said the case seemed “like one of those moments when we have done planning. Imagine Austin notes that this is a center at the intersection of two growth corridors and it doesn’t seem like warehouse zoning is compatible for the intention behind designating the areas in Imagine Austin as centers at the intersection of corridors.”

Flannigan said he was confused by the staff recommendation and blamed city staff for not allowing a multitude of uses that might be appropriate.

Jerry Rusthoven, who oversees zoning cases for the city, told Council, “The applicant could have asked for more intense zoning … the zoning category he’s asking for works for what he wants to do, so he asked for the least intense zoning.”

Harper-Madison said she was texting with Wittliff and he had no objection to removing the conditional overlays. However, Council Member Kathie Tovo asked Assistant City Attorney Mitzi Cotton whether Council could take such an action. Cotton said Council could not make the zoning less restrictive than what the applicant asked for.

Wittliff said Monday that while the tract has nine acres, it would not be suitable for many uses. He said, “I’m about to write Jimmy Flannigan,” and copy the rest of Council. “I’m going to explain to them that even though it’s a nine-acre tract, 90 percent of it is in the 100-year floodplain and 100 percent is in the critical water quality zone.” Wittliff said he wants to establish zoning as soon as possible “so we can use a rather obscure (section of the code) … to appeal to the Planning Commission for a permit for a use in the critical water quality zone.”

Despite what it may look like, Wittliff said, “It’s a floodplain tract with minimal development rights.”

The case is the last item on this Thursday’s agenda.

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