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ZAP disapproves of rezoning for cliffside condos

Friday, February 18, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

Should extreme topography influence whether or not to grant a rezoning? That was the main question the Zoning and Platting Commission wrestled with Tuesday over a request to rezone a property at 4833 Spicewood Springs Road to allow 20 condo units.

“If you have vertigo, this is not the place for you,” Commissioner Jolene Kiolbassa said of the 1-acre property, which features a steep, 100-foot drop. “I do not see how it could be built on.” 

An office building currently sits on the top half of the site, above the slope. The condos would be built below the office building.

It was in large part because of concerns about topography that Commissioner Betsy Greenberg moved to deny the request for Limited Office-Mixed Use (LO-MU) zoning. “I agree – I just don’t think it’s buildable,” Greenberg said, adding that the site is environmentally sensitive. The property is currently zoned LO and Family Residence (SF-3).

Some commissioners, however, argued that topography doesn’t matter in a zoning case. “I tend to separate site development constraints from zoning,” Commissioner Hank Smith said. “We’re not the experts on what’s buildable and what’s not buildable – that’s city staff’s position.” 

“I certainly concur with ‘let the builders build, let the zoners zone,’” said Commissioner Scott Boone, who was appointed to the ZAP Commission in January by Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison.

Kristen James with Keepers Land Planning, representing the property owner, told the Austin Monitor she agreed with Smith and Boone’s point. She said that because the 20-unit figure is just a “number to aim for,” the development may look “nothing like what the commissioners were envisioning.”

The commission voted 7-2-1 to recommend City Council deny the rezoning request. Smith and Boone voted against, and Chair Nadia Barrera-Ramirez abstained.

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