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Planning Commission OKs housing in industrial area

Friday, May 19, 2023 by Jonathan Lee

The Planning Commission on Tuesday supported a rezoning that could bring apartments to an industrial area at the corner of Burleson Road and Montopolis Drive in Southeast Austin.

The case concerns properties at 6300 and 6410 Burleson Road. One of the properties is undeveloped and the other has two small businesses. The applicant hopes to rezone the properties, which total 4.77 acres, from Limited Industrial Services (LI-NP) to Vertical Mixed-Use (CS-MU-V-NP) zoning to allow a mixed-use project.

A conceptual rendering shows a 5-story residential building with ground-floor retail. It is unclear how many units the project would have, but at least 10 percent would be affordable for those making 60 percent of the median family income if the project takes advantage of VMU zoning.

No one spoke or wrote in opposition to the rezoning, and the Southeast Combined Neighborhood Plan Contact Team expressed support. Contact team representative John Sirman said the location would be good for mixed use and could provide homes and services for employees at the new Texas Department of Transportation headquarters nearby. 

City staffers, however, oppose the rezoning. “Residential uses are not compatible, since it’s predominantly an industrial area,” said Nancy Estrada with the Planning Department. She said planning documents designate the area to remain as industrial, and that mixing industrial and housing could raise safety concerns for future residents. 

Micah King, representing the applicant, said the Austin Fire Department signed off on the rezoning since there are no uses or materials within 1,000 feet of the site that could harm residents. If housing is built, new industrial uses would have to be safe for nearby residents. 

King argued that the area does have other uses besides industrial, including housing. And other uses are on the way, he said, including a planned Radio Coffee and Beer outpost two blocks from the site. He also highlighted the project’s location within 150 feet of the Bergstrom Spur urban project, which is slated for construction from 2024 to 2026. 

The commission voted 11-1 in favor of the rezoning, with Chair Todd Shaw against. 

Commissioner Greg Anderson said the decision to allow housing on underutilized land was easy, and that he hoped not to see staffers oppose similar “slam-dunk cases” that would allow housing.

Shaw, on the other hand, said staffers made the right decision. “The desperate need for housing is kind of causing us to not plan very well, unfortunately,” he said. He expressed concern that the city is losing too many industrial areas to redevelopment. 

While Commissioner João Paulo Connolly voted in favor given the city’s need for housing, he said staffers do have a point. 

“I think there is probably a topic here that requires some kind of more comprehensive plan involving City Council around how we are going to preserve industrial-zoned land in this city,” Connolly said.

He added that industrial uses often bring union jobs with good benefits, as opposed to many jobs in retail or food service.

“They’re jobs that allow folks with lower levels of education to actually build and access some amount of wealth,” Connolly said.

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