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ZAP approves commercial zoning for Johnny Morris Road property

Monday, November 23, 2020 by Daniel Salazar

The Zoning and Platting Commission has approved a rezoning for commercial development near Colony Park. Commissioners voted Tuesday to rezone a property at 7008 Johnny Morris Road in Northeast Austin to Community Commercial with mixed-use and conditional overlay combining districts.

Wendy Rhoades with the Housing and Planning Department said the undeveloped property is currently zoned for single-family development (SF-2).

The applicant wanted to rezone the property to Community Commercial-Mixed Use (GR-MU). But staffers recommended Limited Office-Mixed Use (LO-MU) instead.

“This property only has frontage on Johnny Morris and the staff feels that the office makes a better transition between the commercially zoned property to the south and the single-family residential neighborhoods to the north and the east,” Rhoades said.

Victoria Haase with Thrower Design represented the property owner on the rezoning case. Haase noted the property to the south has GR-MU zoning and is currently being developed as the Loyola Lofts project.

“There are many people in this area and more people coming to this area … that could benefit from commercial services to walk to,” Haase said. “The property is well-situated to provide commercial services that will be easily accessible to many of the local residents.”

Haase said neighbors would like to have commercial uses nearby such as banks, grocers, eateries and pharmacies.

“While LO provides opportunity for office uses that could be useful in this neighborhood, it does not allow for those uses expressly desired by the neighborhood,” Haase said. “The GR zoning district will allow those commercial uses and will also leave the flexibility for office uses now and in the future.”

“Development at this site is only going to help put in much-needed infrastructure for transportation improvements,” she added.

Ron Thrower with Thrower Design observed that developers and the city “need to be very cautious” about office-only zoning with the Covid-19 pandemic bringing so many changes to the office workforce.

Commissioner Jim Duncan said he was more inclined to support the staff recommendation.

“I agree that the neighborhood needs non-residential uses,” Duncan said. “I’m just not sure that this particular property is the right place to put it.”

Commissioner Ellen Ray, who is the District 1 commissioner on ZAP, said she strongly supported the applicant’s request, adding that jobs, density and commercial services should be added in this area.

“The fundamental issue here is, what does the community want?” Ray said. “The applicant has done a good job of working with the neighborhood association in terms of assessing what their needs are.”

“Intuitively, it makes sense to offer up an opportunity to give the neighborhood the neighborhood-serving retail that they’ve requested,” she added.

Commissioner Ana Aguirre said she was concerned about some of the potential uses – namely, funeral services and recycling collection – that could be allowed through the rezoning.

Commissioner Timothy Bray said transit investments in the area through Project Connect should be considered through “a long view.”

“Whatever is built here is going to exist whenever the transit comes in,” he said. “The transit right now is subpar there, but there’s a chance to improve and the density and the transit are mutually supporting things.”

Some commissioners suggested that Neighborhood Commercial (LR) zoning would be more appropriate for the site. But Thrower said they had already received neighborhood support for GR zoning.

“We’re trying to bring GR uses to the area that they have said that they want,” Thrower said. Haase also said that GR would give more flexibility toward restaurant uses.

Commissioner Bruce Evans motioned for the applicant’s GR-MU request with a conditional overlay prohibiting a funeral home use. It passed 6-5.

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