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After long wait, Toomey Road rezoning wins initial approval

Friday, December 10, 2021 by Jo Clifton

At the urging of Council Member Ann Kitchen, City Council gave first reading approval for rezoning the apartment complex property at the corner of Toomey Road and Sterzing Street close to Zilker Park. Tenants of the complex, which will be demolished to make way for a new building, have reached an agreement with the property owner. Nevertheless, there was still some neighborhood opposition to the zoning change, which will allow for a 75-foot tower. Initially, developers had sought to build a 90-foot tower on the 0.9-acre property.

Although staff recommended Multifamily-Highest Density (MF-6) zoning, the Planning Commission was unable to reach a consensus and forwarded the case to Council without a recommendation. Between staff and neighborhood requests to postpone hearings on the case, it was postponed eight times before Council took action Thursday. However, organized tenants agreed not to oppose the rezoning in return for certain promises, including the right to return to the new project.

Kitchen made clear that, although she was supporting the zoning change on first reading, she would not support it on subsequent readings until the developer signed a restrictive covenant that includes reserving 15 percent of the rental units for families earning 80 percent or less of the median family income for 40 years. And 5 percent of any ownership units will be reserved for those earning 80 percent or less of MFI.

One important part of the agreement says the tenants will receive 180 days’ notice of demolition and will not pay any rent for 90 days prior to demolition. The developer, known as 1725 Toomey LLC, agreed to pay up to $2,000 for the first month’s rent for each tenant upon relocating, and $500 for moving expenses, as well as up to $250 in application fees.

Zoning manager Jerry Rusthoven explained that the developer also agreed to eliminate short-term rentals as a use in the building. He said he needed to talk to the city’s legal staff in order to put that into the ordinance. In addition, Kitchen said the developer has promised to create a vegetative buffer for public use along Toomey.

Not everyone was happy with the proposed zoning change. David Piper of the Zilker Neighborhood Association said, “This has become the Toomey Road hostage case.” He said the tenants, some of whom are paying considerably less than market rate for their apartments, “deserve a better deal. It’s wrong that the tenants will get nothing for their non-opposition.” The property is listed for sale at $32 million-$33 million, though if another developer buys it, they will have to abide by the restrictions that are part of the zoning ordinance.

The property sits in Kitchen’s District 5. No other Council member commented on the proposal she and the tenants had worked out with Amanda Swor, who represents the developer. Approval was unanimous.

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