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Council OKs zoning change to house survivors of domestic abuse

Wednesday, October 19, 2022 by Jo Clifton

Council approved a zoning change Thursday in the University Hills/Windsor Park neighborhood that will allow not only multifamily units for domestic violence survivors but also office space for the engineering firm Civilitude.

According to the developer, the SAFE Alliance will provide 60 residential units and support services for those families. The alliance will own the property, which includes one building with strictly residential uses and the second building that will include 23 residential units and 16,000 square feet of office space.

Civilitude is the parent company of Capital A Housing, which is developing the project on several lots between 5107 and 5115 Lancaster Court near 52nd Street. Several Council members expressed their gratitude to the developers for offering housing to women and children who have escaped from domestic violence.

Conor Kenny of Capital A Housing told Council that, in order to obtain the property, Civilitude traded its current office site for the Lancaster Court properties. Therefore, Civilitude is moving to the office space.

The Planning Commission voted in favor of the project 8-0, and the Windsor Park Neighborhood Plan Contact Team indicated its support.

Tomasina Tijerina, Kelly White and Coni Stogner all reiterated the need for housing for those who have suffered from domestic abuse or sexual violence.

Tijerina, who is chairperson of a nonprofit-based housing complex in Austin, told Council that she and her four children became homeless even though she had a Master’s degree and 20 years of work experience.

“The primary cause of women’s homelessness is domestic violence, and it’s not a straight path of being a victim to a thriving-without-assistance person,” she explained. “At first, when I was at the shelter and in transitional housing I didn’t recognize I was homeless. I had shelter. My children had shelter. But someone kindly informed me that despite having shelter, I was homeless. Please help me to help this alliance to help other desperate homeless people regain some place to call home. Please help me to help someone else.”

However, enough residents were concerned about the effect the project might have on their neighborhood to create a valid petition opposing the zoning change. Neighbors said they were concerned about the height of the office building the developers intend to build.

Andy Breslin, who lives in the neighborhood, told Council he and others have “serious concerns about the zoning change” for the Civilitude building. He said without the requested change developers could build up to 60 feet.

“This project was approved by the Planning Commission without being provided with any physical representation of a physical plan,” he said. He added that for months they’ve asked Kenny for the plan, but were met with excuses.

“At this date we still are very unclear about what they’re planning to build,” said Breslin. He explained that they had seen the SAFE apartment buildings, but with no representations about the office building, the neighborhood is left with uncertainty about possible negative impacts.

Because of the valid petition, zoning for the project could not win approval without nine votes from Council. Getting to nine became tricky. Mayor Steve Adler first said he would not vote on the item because his wife, Diane Land, sits on the board of the SAFE Alliance.

Council members Vanessa Fuentes and Natasha Harper-Madison were not present for the vote. After Adler announced that there were nine votes in favor, zoning chief Jerry Rusthoven asked him to make sure there were indeed nine votes. The mayor realized that there would actually only be eight votes if he recused himself. He then said he was voting in favor of the zoning change, saying, “I’m fine because I don’t have a financial interest in the case.”

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