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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Friday, October 16, 2020 by Jo Clifton
Council approves Pecan Springs compromise
After 11 months of wrangling between neighbors and development representative Ron Thrower, 10 of 11 City Council members on Thursday finally approved the rezoning of 3500 Pecan Springs Road, from Family Residence – Neighborhood Plan (SF-3-NP) combining district to Townhouse & Condominium Residence – Neighborhood Plan (SF-6-NP) combining district.
The property, which is about 1.5 acres, currently has one house on it but under the new zoning will have 21 townhouses, including one affordable unit. As Assistant City Attorney Mitzi Cotton reminded Council members, they may not require any affordable housing as part of zoning. However, the developer’s agents, Ron Thrower and Victoria Haase, assured Council that the developer would provide that one unit. Thrower said it would be there, “even if I have to buy it myself.”
Neighbors have strongly opposed the zoning request; their valid petition included signatures from more than 33 percent of nearby neighbors. A.J. Crittendon Jr. wrote in his public hearing comments to the Planning Commission: “I object rezoning of 3500 Pecan Springs Road … with the intent of the developer to build 25 units on a buildable area of approximately 1.5 acres. There are only 55 residential households in the entire four-street neighborhood.”
According to Crittendon, “This is a semi-isolated neighborhood with people that still have gardens and enjoy observing small families of wildlife species driven out by other developments around the area, i.e. nesting pairs of hawks, mated pair of grey foxes, the very elusive & vanishing road runner and so on. 25 units will add an extra 25 to 50+ automobiles ….”
At some point in their discussions, neighbors decided that change was coming, like it or not, and they should negotiate an agreement. On Thursday, neighbor Nadia Barbot told Council they had agreed to 18 units with no affordable housing. But she clearly was not happy, noting that they had not reached agreement on a restrictive covenant about setbacks. And the valid petition was still in place, requiring a three-fourths Council vote.
Although the property is in Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison’s District 1, Council Member Jimmy Flannigan made the first motion to allow 25 units, after determining that the applicant would provide two affordable units. Haase said her client was agreeable to having 18 units as the neighborhood wanted with no affordable housing, or 25 units with two affordable units, as Flannigan proposed.
“We’re just faced with the choice of the Council. We can either zone this for 18 units with no affordability requirement or we can zone it for 25 units and get two affordable housing units without having to spend any of our affordable housing bonds or any other money that we heard from Montopolis that they really want to be spent in their corner of the city. These are always hard choices, but this is one of those rubber-meets-the-road moments where we have to ask ourselves if we really mean it when we say we want to build affordable housing …. If we don’t do the 25, they’ll build 18 with no affordability.”
“I need some kind of guarantee if they get 25,” Council Member Alison Alter said. At that point, Cotton interjected that Council could not require affordability as part of zoning.
When Mayor Steve Adler called for the vote, eight were in favor, with Council members Leslie Pool, Kathie Tovo and Alter abstaining. Since the valid petition had not been withdrawn, the motion needed nine votes, so Flannigan’s motion failed.
Pool then made a motion to approve the zoning with 18 units, which would not include affordable housing. She said she would seek changes to state law that prevent the city from requiring affordable housing as part of zoning. However, she noted that she had tried to do that in previous legislative sessions with no luck.
Tovo then suggested that they adopt a motion allowing for 21 units, with one affordable unit. Harper-Madison said she would support that. The final vote was 10-1, with Flannigan dissenting.
Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza commented, “This is a great example of the choices we have. We could have had two affordable units and now we have one.” The difference between the two outcomes was only one affordable unit, but for the neighborhood it was four fewer new households to contend with.
Map courtesy of Google Maps.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.