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ZAP unable to support South Austin townhomes

Thursday, August 18, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

The Zoning and Platting Commission failed to recommend a rezoning for seven townhomes in South Austin.

The zoning case concerns a 1.3-acre vacant lot at 7311 and 7313 Bluff Springs Road, which the applicant hopes to rezone from Single Family-Small Lot (SF-4A) to Townhouse & Condominium (SF-6). The triangular parcel is constrained on one side by a gas line, which also buffers the site from an adjacent single-family neighborhood.

Three neighbors spoke against the rezoning at ZAP’s Aug. 16 meeting. Atari Moses said the proposed development shouldn’t go next to single-family homes. “I purchased in reliance on my own family’s peaceful and quiet enjoyment of our home. And it is incompatible to have a multifamily residence just abutting our backyards.” 

Atari also said that multifamily residential complexes have higher crime than single-family neighborhoods. “We know what happens from the multifamily high-rises across Bluff Springs,” she said, falsely claiming that there have been five homicides at the complex within the last year (one person was murdered there in 2021).

The applicant, Srinivas Minnekanti, clarified that the development is planned as one-story, detached single-family homes. The main reason for the rezoning is to cluster the homes away from the gas line and adjacent properties. Under current zoning, building more than two homes would require subdividing the lot, which would not likely yield as many units.

Another neighbor, Brandon McKinney, worried about increased traffic on Bluff Springs. “It’s already incredibly overstressed. I realize that this is only seven units but could be more and sets a precedent for not holding developers accountable for dealing with the traffic that they’re adding to an area.”

Neighbors also claimed that trees on the site had been cut illegally. Minnekanti said a private tree service company had cut the trees in accordance with city code. 

Some commissioners thought the site wasn’t right for the townhomes with a gas line so close. “I do think that there is this rationale there of not building too densely near pipelines,” Commissioner Jolene Kiolbassa said. “And I think it’s a really hard property to build on anyway. Also, personally, I just don’t like the fact that the trees were already taken down.” 

Commissioner Hank Smith stressed the need for more housing supply. “I think this is a good opportunity to have more housing, which we desperately need,” Smith said. “If there are concerns about traffic, those will be addressed by staff during the review. The tree issue is really not a zoning issue. It will be addressed by staff, especially since it’s been brought to light during the review process.”

City staff agreed with Smith. “My personal view is we need housing, and I think this site could be well-equipped to provide the detached condominiums,” said senior planner Michael Dietz. 

A motion to approve the rezoning failed 4-3-2, with Chair Nadia Barrera-Ramirez and commissioners Lonny Stern and Scott Boone joining Smith in support. Commissioners Kiolbassa, Ann Denkler and Betsy Greenberg voted against, while David King and Carrie Thompson abstained.

The case now moves to City Council without a formal recommendation from ZAP. Council is slated to hear the case on Sept. 1. 

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