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ZAP says MF-2 too dense for Menchaca, a Project Connect corridor

Monday, November 22, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

On Tuesday, the Zoning and Platting Commission rejected Multifamily Low-Density (MF-2) zoning for three properties along Menchaca Road over objections from some commissioners who argued for more density on a corridor slated for Project Connect investment.

“When I look at the surrounding uses, I don’t really see support for MF-2,” said Commissioner Betsy Greenberg, who motioned to recommend Townhouse and Condominium (SF-6) zoning instead of MF-2. The commission voted 6-3 in favor of SF-6. 

The applicant’s request for MF-2 at 7603 and 7515 Menchaca Road and 902 Keilbar Lane would allow 20 housing units on the 1.1 acres. SF-6 would likely mean fewer, more expensive units. 

Adjacent zoning includes SF-6, Single-Family Standard Lot (SF-3) and Limited Office (LO), and Development Reserve (DR) zoning. The next two properties to the south have MF-2 and General Office-Mixed Use (GO-MU) zoning. 

Those who voted against the motion thought the request was entirely reasonable. “Looking at the surrounding land use, MF-2 makes complete sense to me,” Chair Nadia Barrera-Ramirez said. City staffers also support MF-2. 

Barrera-Ramirez and Commissioner Timothy Bray argued that density makes sense because of the planned MetroRapid bus route on Menchaca. “Low-density multifamily, which is what MF-2 is, seems entirely appropriate on a place that’s going to have 10-minute rapid bus service,” Commissioner Timothy Bray said. 

Neighbor Eugene Sutton, who said recent development in the area has been too dense, hoped to halve the proposed unit count. “Let’s limit the number to 10 and try to provide some neighborhood integrity,” said Sutton, who is the president of the Matthews Lane Neighborhood Association. Owners of approximately 15 percent of the surrounding properties have signed a petition against the rezoning. “We hope to achieve the threshold of 20 percent,” Sutton said. 

Commissioners also explicitly addressed the question of what’s pertinent in zoning cases – a recurring theme at ZAP as of late. When Commissioner David King said development on the site concerned him because of heritage trees and community-reported localized flooding, Commissioner Hank Smith pushed back, arguing that those considerations aren’t germane to the question at hand.

“The zoning is what’s appropriate for the land use,” Smith said. “Floodplain, tree ordinances – all that will be addressed at the time of site plan regardless of what the zoning is.”

Greenberg chimed in, saying, “Well, that’s a point of view.” 

Smith then insisted that the commission’s bylaws prescribe a narrow approach to deciding zoning cases in which concerns like flooding, traffic and heritage trees are deferred to city staff during the site plan process. 

A similar discussion arose last month when Sherri Sirwaitis with the Housing and Planning Department told commissioners they should not discuss affordable housing during hearings. Under state law, cities in Texas cannot require affordable housing through a rezoning request except through a density bonus program. 

The final decision on whether MF-2 is appropriate will have to wait until next year, when City Council takes up the case at its Jan. 27 meeting.

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