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Planning Commission approves zoning, land use changes for Govalle project

Monday, November 16, 2020 by Daniel Salazar

The Planning Commission has approved zoning and future land use map changes for a mixed-use project in the Govalle area of East Austin.

A developer wanted to change the future land use map from commercial and single-family to mixed-use for tracts at 1135 and 1129 1/2 Gunter St., near the intersection of Airport Boulevard and Springdale Road.

Heather Chaffin from the Housing and Planning Department said staffers recommended rezoning the property to General Commercial Services with mixed-use, conditional overlay and neighborhood plan combining districts (CS-MU-CO-NP), instead of the applicant’s request to also have a vertical mixed-use building district on the property (CS-MU-V-CO-NP).

Staffers did not support the vertical mixed-use part of the rezoning request, “because of the access to the local residential street,” Chaffin said.

The property, which is currently used for a cab company and bus charter company, “is not on Airport Boulevard and doesn’t have access to Airport Boulevard,” she said.

Armbrust & Brown’s Michael Whellan represented the applicant on the rezoning and future land use map amendment cases. Whellan said the changes would allow them to build a vertical mixed-use project with 265 apartments above ground-floor commercial uses. Ten percent of the residential units would be affordable at 60 percent of the median family income.

“The site largely has full commercial entitlements already and is not seeking any changes to height,” Whellan said.

“The main thing we are asking for is the ability to provide housing and participate in the city’s VMU density bonus program,” Whellan added. He acknowledged the property doesn’t have direct access to Airport Boulevard, but said a corner of the property does “touch” the corridor.

He said the property’s vehicle storage use has been “grandfathered in” as a non-conforming use that’s still active.

Whellan said they wanted the entire site rezoned with a vertical mixed-use overlay.

“With this rezoning, we would be able to provide what we believe is a more community-friendly and compatible mixed-use project with affordable housing,” he said. “In addition … we have agreed to prohibit a number of more intense uses that are currently allowed today.”

“Approving VMU zoning here would thus allow us to provide much-needed housing without raising the level of potential vehicular trips beyond what is already allowed on the site today,” he added.

Commissioner Jeff Thompson questioned why staff members were hesitant to recommend V zoning on a tract so close to a corridor like Airport Boulevard.

Commissioner Greg Anderson said he was perplexed that staffers would oppose vertical mixed-use zoning in this case.

“Housing and Planning is now together and somehow there are recommendations from that department tonight to say no to (27) income-restricted homes paid for by the developer,” Anderson said.

Chaffin said staffers are instructed by code to follow the guidance for putting VMU on current and future core transit corridors.

“It’s not that we cannot have VMU in different locations,” Chaffin said. “It’s just that staff follows code and code says these need to be along core transit corridors.”

Commission Chair Todd Shaw said the commission would benefit from more written guidance from staff on how to treat vertical mixed-use zoning cases.

Anderson motioned to approve the applicant’s request with a vertical mixed-use combining district along with prohibited uses including adult-oriented businesses.

“This case just makes a lot of sense,” Anderson said. “We’re not meeting our (housing) goals by any stretch of the imagination, so at least we can chip at it in cases like this.”

The motion was approved unanimously.

This story has been corrected; there are a 27 affordable homes being proposed, not 60. Though that was originally the number cited by Anderson, it was later corrected to reflect the correct number. Map courtesy of the city of Austin.

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