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ZAP lacks votes in contentious 3M property rezoning

Tuesday, July 13, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

The Zoning and Platting Commission last Tuesday failed to recommend rezoning part of 3M Company’s former campus in Northwest Austin, falling short of the six votes required for a motion to pass. The case now goes to City Council without the commission’s input.

The rezoning is part of plans by developers Karlin Real Estate and Trammell Crow to redevelop the 57-acre 3M property at 11705 Research Blvd. into a multi-building office complex. 

The site is zoned Limited Industrial (LI), but with a catch – on 5.6 of the 57 acres, a conditional overlay limits height to 40 feet (compared to the standard 60 feet for LI zoning), among other restrictions. The developers want to remove pieces of the conditional overlay, particularly the 40-foot height limit. City staffers recommend eliminating the 40-foot limit while keeping most of the other restrictions in place, and the developers are in agreement with staffers’ recommendation. 

The project can be built with or without the rezoning, said Amanda Swor, agent for the developer. The case is mainly a question of building up versus out.

“With the 60 feet, it allows for a more functional project, which allows us to shrink the building’s footprint,” Swor said, preserving more trees and lowering impervious cover. Under the 5.6-acre tract’s current zoning, a two-story building would likely be built instead of a three-story building, according to Swor, representing a 31,000-square-foot difference in impervious cover. 

Though the rezoning would have relatively minor implications – an additional story versus slightly more impervious cover for one building out of many – the request proved contentious among both neighbors and commissioners.

Neighbors from two adjacent subdivisions came out in full force against the rezoning, mainly citing traffic concerns. “Traffic from the 3M property will add to an already chaotic and dangerous stretch of road,” said neighbor Richard Bean, referring to the Highway 183 frontage road. Others were concerned about traffic on West Cow Path, a neighborhood street. 

Swor said that regardless of the rezoning, the developers have committed to fund mobility improvements in the area, including a pedestrian hybrid beacon near Davis Elementary School, in addition to a required $6.2 million transportation impact fee. She also noted that the proposed development is smaller than what could be built; 1.2 million square feet of office space is planned on a site entitled to 2.5 million square feet.

Privacy was another concern. Neighbor Charlie Ford presented an artist’s rendering, which he commissioned, of the view from his backyard with a 60-foot office building in the background. “It’s almost an eminent domain thing by the commercial sector, taking over my property here,” he said. 

Swor said the project will include a vegetative buffer and will fully comply with compatibility standards, meaning the 60-foot height entitlement would kick in at 300 feet from the property line.

Commissioners were split on the zoning request. “I just don’t really see why they need this additional entitlement,” Commissioner Betsy Greenberg said. “They have plenty to work with.”

Commissioner Timothy Bray disagreed, arguing that less height and more impervious cover would be a “lose-lose for everyone involved.”

All commissioners agreed that the traffic problem would not be solved by this rezoning request. “Our Webex dais is not going to be able to dictate the traffic improvements that are needed to address the issue here,” Commissioner Ellen Ray said.

Greenberg motioned to deny the zoning request. Five commissioners voted against the request versus two in favor and one abstaining. Without a sixth vote, the motion failed.

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