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ZAP to consider Training Kitchen request as commission grapples with postponement woes

Friday, September 18, 2020 by Daniel Salazar

At the Zoning and Platting Commission Tuesday night, a rezoning request from a nonprofit that wants to build a community center on a South Austin lot was postponed by commissioners until early October. But the discussion underscored the commissioners’ frustration about how the body is handling postponement requests and what they mean for projects.

The Training Kitchen wants to redevelop 1.5 acres at 1901 Matthews Lane into an “alternative learning community” that would host a commercial kitchen, adult education classes and family movie nights. The nonprofit wants the northern half of its lot rezoned to Community Commercial (GR), although staffers are recommending General Office Mixed Use (GO-MU) combining district zoning.

“Whether adults are struggling with joblessness, food insecurity, or a diminished sense of self, TTK will help bridge the gap between them and economic opportunity,” Training Kitchen co-founders Amanda Longtain and Matthew Shepherd wrote in a letter to the city. “With this zoning change, TTK will be positioned to respond to the immediate needs of our community using food preparation as a training opportunity and the sales of the affordable foods as revenue.”

But ZAP didn’t end up discussing the rezoning or the future plans for the site. While Seyed Miri, a neighbor on Dan Jean Drive, did not sign up to speak in time, he requested a postponement on the case Monday afternoon, saying he wanted to better understand any drainage issues related to the project, which is upstream from his property.

Stansberry Engineering Company’s Blayne Stansberry, who is representing TTK on the case, said a critical water quality zone for a minor waterway encompasses the rear of the TTK lot and all of Miri’s property. But Stansberry said any drainage impacts would be reviewed for compliance with the Land Development Code at the site development stage.

Longtain also asked the commission to reject the postponement request.

“I don’t believe that what we do on our land will affect him in any way whatsoever,” she said, referring to Miri.

Commissioners voted 8-1 to postpone the case until Oct. 6, but said they were frustrated about this postponement and the process for postponing cases in general.

“This whole thing seems a little absurd to me. We’re talking about postponing it because somebody couldn’t sign up in time, but they can ask for a postponement?” Commissioner Timothy Bray said. “This just seems like a crazy outcome to me.”

Commissioner Bruce Evans, the only ZAP member present to vote against the postponement, said the commission has “continued to just do whatever with postponements.”

“We weren’t postponing the case due to zoning issues,” Evans said later in the meeting. “We were postponing the case due to somebody’s misunderstanding of drainage issues or concern about drainage issues, which have really nothing to do with the zoning – they have to do with the site plan.”

“We’re going to be in the same process we were this evening,” he added, referring to their next meeting. “And that’s the kind of thing that I think we’re doing continuously in error.”

Commissioner Jim Duncan said it bothers him whenever applicants or project opponents are “misusing the postponement process.”

“I’ve seen applicants want to postpone it because maybe they don’t see the votes there – maybe two or three people are missing – and so they know they may have it better next time,” Duncan said. “And I’ve seen neighborhoods postpone it because they want to build up their opposition.”

“There needs to be some logic … we can’t keep going at it forever and ever on this,” he added. “We’re spinning our wheels.”

Commissioner David King agreed that there were postponement issues at ZAP. But he said residents’ inability to understand zoning cases can have long-lasting ramifications.

“I err on the side of letting people have more time, whether it’s the applicant or staff or the neighborhood or the next-door person who says that they need more time,” King said.

ZAP’s only other discussion case Tuesday, a resubdivision in District 10, was also postponed after a city staff request.

This story has been corrected to clarify that the proposed development will be a learning community, and will not have people living on the property.

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