Thursday, November 5, 2020 by Daniel Salazar

Planning Commission postpones ‘Statesman’ tract cases

In its Oct. 27 meeting, the Planning Commission indefinitely postponed consideration of neighborhood plan amendment and rezoning cases related to transforming the Austin American-Statesman site at 305 S. Congress Ave.

A development team wants to redevelop the newspaper’s downtown property on the South Central Waterfront into mixed-use development, parks and open space.

Richard Suttle, an attorney representing the development group, said they’re still pursuing the project even though an implementing plan for the South Central Waterfront is not in place.

“So it’s a complicated case,” he said.

Suttle said they were “a little disappointed” that city staffers recommended an indefinite postponement “because that means that we’re probably looking somewhere out past the end of the year.”

Suttle said they need to sort out some notification issues with the city as well.

“We need to have notification go out again on this because it’s been sitting around for over a year and a half. What we need is some traction and some encouragement that we’re actually going to start the hearing process.”

The Housing and Planning Department’s Jerry Rusthoven said city officials are not at a point yet to make a recommendation about the project. But he acknowledged that the case has been “around for over a year now” and that a postponement would help “keep the case alive.”

“There’s a lot of back-and-forth. There’s a lot of moving parts on this case,” Rusthoven said. “The site’s obviously a very important site for the city – it’s a very prominent location at Congress and the river.”

Rusthoven said a discussion about the project would be scheduled for the Environmental Commission “sooner rather than later,” as well as a discussion with the South Central Waterfront Advisory Board.

“There’s too many outstanding issues to commit to a date, but I do commit to getting the case back on track,” he said.

Russell Fraser with South River City Citizens, a neighborhood association, said he wanted more clarity about the city’s regulation and financial plans for the property.

“We’re sort of the ground-zero neighborhood for impacts due to this development,” Fraser said. “I just want to remind the commission that … the financial and governance tools must be in place to ensure the vastly increased development entitlements result in community benefits.”

Commissioner Carmen Llanes Pulido asked about the status of the implementation of the South Central Waterfront vision framework.

Rusthoven said the South Central Waterfront plan has been approved by City Council, but that the regulating plan that goes with it is not done. That plan was going to be part of the Land Development Code rewrite, which is now tied up in litigation.

“We are still working on what form the implementation of the plan would take pending the court’s decision on the code rewrite,” Rusthoven said.

Commissioner Awais Azhar motioned for an indefinite postponement, seconded by Llanes Pulido.

“I hear the concern of postponing it indefinitely,” Azhar said. “I really hope that staff can figure it out and bring it forward to us as soon as possible and we can expedite this, considering that they have been waiting and have shown patience.”

Llanes Pulido said she was also interested in how the project could move forward, as well as how changes to the regulating plan “could be made without getting into lawsuit territory.”

The commission unanimously approved the postponement.

Photo by Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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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.

Planned Unit Development: A zoning classification designated by the city to allow greater flexibility for projects within its boundaries.

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