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Photo by city of Austin

ZAP recommends multifamily project against neighbors’ wishes

Friday, July 9, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

A rezoning for a 330-unit multifamily project is heading to City Council with the unanimous recommendation of the Zoning and Platting Commission – and against the wishes of several neighbors who spoke at the meeting. 

The commission voted Tuesday to recommend the requested Multifamily-Moderate Density (MF-4) zoning that would make the project viable. The site is located at 12121 N. Interstate 35 near Tech Ridge, and is currently zoned Community Commercial (GR). City staffers recommended MF-4 zoning. 

Commissioners regarded the project as inoffensive. Residents in a single-family neighborhood adjacent to the site, on the other hand, painted a dire picture of the traffic congestion, loss of privacy and increased crime the new apartment complex would cause. 

Traffic was their chief concern. Because the proposed apartment complex would only have access to the one-way interstate frontage road, many car trips would be routed through neighborhood streets.

“If you want to see how a neighborhood could be destroyed, you put 1,000 to 2,000 additional trips per day on Nature’s Glen,” said Glenn Weichert, lawyer for the neighborhood’s HOA. “You’ll see for-sale signs going up right and left.” 

Neighbor Ed Bos, whose backyard abuts the site, said having buildings and a parking lot so close would render his backyard unusable: “We can’t enjoy our backyards anymore. We can’t have family and friends over for cookouts.”

Bos reasoned that because people bought their homes anticipating commercial use, it would be unfair to change the zoning to multifamily. Now he may move. “We had plans of staying in this neighborhood and not ever moving again, but … the change of rezoning for multifamily could force us to relocate due to privacy, traffic, parking and other concerns.”

Parking from the proposed complex spilling over into the neighborhood concerned neighbor Tiffany Conner. “Overflow parking will put an undue, vast amount of stress and pressure on this small community, something we are not sure whether we can withstand,” she said.

“We’re not against apartments in general – we all purchased our homes with two apartment complexes less than a mile from our houses. We’re just against an apartment complex in this specific location,” Conner clarified. 

Conner also raised the concern of increased crime, citing a recent smash-and-grab incident affecting cars parked in the neighborhood as overflow from nearby apartments. 

The agent for the developer, John Joseph, tried to assuage neighbors’ concerns. Joseph said that there would be privacy fences and vegetation between the neighbors and the apartments. He also said that the apartments would observe compatibility with the nearby single-family homes, which means setbacks and height restrictions within a certain distance.

It is unclear whether city code would mandate compatibility in this case. The nearby homes are zoned Townhouse & Condominium (SF-6), which doesn’t trigger compatibility, though they may be built to align with more restrictive single-family zoning, which would trigger compatibility. 

To ensure that compatibility standards are met either way, the commission added a conditional overlay to its recommendation that stipulates compatibility. 

Joseph also emphasized the benefits of the project not only for the neighbors but for the city. With the rezoning, Joseph said, the city would gain a critical access point to the Walnut Creek Greenbelt; a neighboring office project by the same developer would donate part of the office tract to the parks department. But without the apartment rezoning, there would be no donation by the office project. “We’ve got a golden opportunity to work a donation,” Joseph said.

The rezoning is scheduled for Council on July 29. 

Photo caption: Map shows the site of the proposed apartments, the nearby neighborhood, I-35 and Walnut Creek.

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