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As one family finds out, rezoning a property in Austin ‘takes perseverance’

Monday, October 11, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

Most of the time, developers’ representatives appear before the Zoning and Platting Commission to request a zoning change. But on Tuesday, the commission heard a request not from someone looking to turn a profit, but from a family aiming to build a multigenerational homestead. 

Members of the Rees family told ZAP that they plan to build up to four additional homes on their 6-acre South Austin property so that multiple generations can live together. However, the zoning won’t allow it. That’s why the family hopes to change the  Interim-Rural Residential (I-RR) zoning on the property to Urban Family Residence (SF-5-CO) with a conditional overlay allowing a maximum of six units.

“It seems very simple, but it’s really not,” said Janice Rees, the owner of the property. “It takes perseverance and dedication to get this done.”  

The Rees family has lived together on the property, which currently has two homes, for over a decade. “For a while, we were a four-generation family there,” said John Rees, Janice’s son. 

The complexity of rezoning a property in Austin led the family to hire a lobbyist, Meg Greenfield with Dunaway Associates, to guide them through the process. “We’re not developers,” John said.

John added that the family does not want to sell to a developer either. This preference is reflected in the conditional overlay, which he hopes will “prevent the land from ever being developed by developers and with very high density.” He explained that the family does not plan to start building anytime soon, and that the rezoning is “more just forward-thinking for our family.”  

If the Rees family eventually makes this idea a reality, there will be six total homes – one per acre. Three of the homes would be small accessory units or garage apartments. “This is very low density,” Greenfield said. 

The proposal received pushback from several neighbors. In addition to concerns about flooding and crowded wildfire escape routes, neighbor Brent Raschke said he does not want his neighbors staring into his yard. 

Andrew Gaudini echoed Raschke’s concerns about fire: “I’d like to be able to get out of here if there’s a fire.” Two-lane David Moore Drive, where the Rees tract is located, is the only egress to Slaughter Lane for a wide swath of land; it’s a poor escape route for a wildfire-prone area.

Neighbor Jeremy Burge worried about a developer attempting to rezone the property again down the line. “Money will always talk,” he said. Burge mentioned that he’s seen an “encroachment” of new development in the area. Earlier this year, ZAP heard a zoning case for apartments at nearby 1434 Genoa Drive, and City Council recently approved the rezoning.

Despite these concerns, the hearing went smoothly for the Rees family. Commissioners supported the plan, voting unanimously to recommend SF-5-CO zoning. 

Even with the rezoning likely headed for unanimous approval by Council, the Reeses aren’t out of the woods just yet. Before building, they will have to go through subdivision and site plan review, and city staffers indicated that the road and utility infrastructure on the property may need upgrades.

Even though the process is difficult, Janice Rees said she intends to carry out her late husband’s wishes. “This was what he wanted,” she said.

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