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Despite concerns about roadway capacity, ZAP endorses District 5 rezoning

Monday, August 22, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

The Zoning and Platting Commission recommended a rezoning last Tuesday that would allow additional homes on three single-family lots in South Austin. But not everyone was on board, with some commissioners siding with neighbors who wanted to prohibit vehicle access to a traffic-clogged street. 

The case concerns three adjacent properties at 9608, 9700, and 9702 Swansons Ranch Road totaling 1.5 acres. The applicant, represented by Victoria Haase, plans to rezone the properties to Family Residence (SF-3), which allows two units per lot. Two of the lots currently have Single Family-Standard Lot (SF-2) zoning while the other has Single Family-Large Lot (SF-1); both allow just one unit per lot.

Haase said SF-3 “is compatible with the other single-family zoning in the area.” City staffers agree and recommend approval of the rezoning. SF-3 would allow 20 new homes, though Haase said the development likely won’t include that many due to other constraints. 

For neighbors, more homes means more traffic onto Bilbrook Place. Because the street is the main egress for a cluster of neighborhoods, residents say it’s already a bottleneck, with cars queuing for multiple light cycles to turn onto Slaughter Lane. Beyond the daily frustrations of congestion, neighbors fear the situation could turn deadly in the event of a wildfire or other emergency. 

“If the development ends up with vehicular access to Bilbrook, in the case of an emergency evacuation, increased traffic would endanger everyone in 623 acres,” Bill Meacham said. “A viable compromise would be to require a conditional overlay on the proposed development forbidding vehicular access on Bilbrook.”

Neighbors have stated this fear in previous zoning cases, including one last year to bring apartments to Genoa Drive

Commissioner Jolene Kiolbassa motioned to approve SF-3 but contain vehicle access to Swansons Ranch, as neighbors had proposed. “Would you rather be evacuating with a thousand people trying to get out of Bilbrook or 20 people trying to get out of Swansons Ranch?” she said.

Others argued that condemning the new homes to a dead-end street with poor access to Slaughter would hurt the new residents’ quality of life.

“We’re concerned about dead ends and cul-de-sacs, and then we’re going to suggest that we build out a property that is dependent on a cul-de-sac and a dead end as their only street,” Commissioner Lonny Stern said. He worried that because of the median on Slaughter Lane prohibiting left turns from Swansons Ranch, residents would try dangerous U-turns at the next light in order to turn left.

“You evacuate once in probably never, but you drive this road every day,” Commissioner Hank Smith said, adding that the additional traffic impact onto Bilbrook would be minimal. Haase said it’s possible only half the units would have driveways on Bilbrook.

Kiolbassa’s motion failed. The commission then passed a motion by Smith to recommend SF-3 with no restrictions on vehicle access. The vote was 6-3, with commissioners Betsy Greenberg, Ann Denkler and Jolene Kiolbassa against. City Council is scheduled to vote on the case Sept. 1.

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