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After fireworks, Springdale PUD moves a step forward

Tuesday, June 8, 2021 by Jo Clifton

On Thursday City Council approved on second reading Planned Unit Development (PUD) zoning for the properties at 1011 and 1017 Springdale Road, home of the infamous East Austin tank farm. But the 10-0 vote came only after Council Member Vanessa Fuentes argued in favor of postponement, angering Council Member Pio Renteria, who called her a “gentrifier.” Council Member Mackenzie Kelly did not attend the meeting. The item is set to return to Council for third reading this Thursday.

Representatives of some neighborhood groups – though not necessarily the ones closest to the property – urged Council not to approve the 93-foot height maximum and to postpone consideration of the case until July 29. Several speakers attacked the project for its alleged gentrification impacts, while others urged Council to move forward with the zoning and its promise to help them deal with existing flooding problems.

The project is in Renteria’s district and he is well aware of who supported him and who opposed him in his two elections to the District 3 office, as well as their actions to hinder various zoning requests. He pointed out one person in particular opposing the project who does not live in the Springdale neighborhood.

Most of the conversation among Council members was about how to designate use of the dollars the developer would be donating for affordable housing. Attorney Michael Whellan, representing the developer, Jay Paul Company, said his client is offering more than $8 million in benefits that include affordable housing dollars and money for parks and flood control.

In making a motion to postpone, Fuentes said, “This conversation that we are having right now about amending …. We owe it to the community knowing that this is a rapidly gentrifying area, the impacts of displacement. We owe them some more time. So I would like to offer an amendment that we would consider this” on second reading.

Renteria, who apologized to his colleagues a few minutes later, said, “You know my colleague here is a gentrifier. She wasn’t born here,” at which point Fuentes interrupted him, saying, “That’s very disrespectful ….” A few words after that were unintelligible, until Renteria said, “You can make whatever motion you want to make,” to which she responded, “I just did.”

Fuentes also argued that giving neighbors more time to sign a restrictive covenant would be beneficial, but Renteria said he was confident they would not sign it no matter how much time they had. He warned his colleagues that a postponement could mean a loss of millions of dollars for the city if the developer decided to walk away from the zoning request.

Whellan told Council, “This case has been before the city for over a year. We met with two of the contact teams prior to filing or immediately after we filed in May 2020 and we presented to Council the development assessment in August 2020. We then filed the zoning case in September 2020. And since then, we have met extensively with the neighbors, the neighborhood groups, the contact teams and city staff as well as appearing before the Environmental Commission, where we received unanimous support. And in front of the Planning Commission, where we also received support this past March.”

After Council approved the new zoning on first reading on April 22, Whellan said, “We had subsequent meetings with the contact teams, where we were presented more ideas for community benefits, which we responded to by taking the suggestions and increasing our package … by $925,000 … since April 22.”

If Council ultimately decides to reject the PUD zoning, Whellan said his client is ready to move forward with a project that would include two extra acres of impervious cover and would not deal with stormwater from an adjacent development that is flooding residents along Saucedo Street. The city would also lose the numerous community benefits that would go along with the extra height and the PUD zoning. Whellan said his client already has a site development permit and has started preliminary work on the site.

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