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Follow-up zoning case promises more housing for South Lamar

Wednesday, October 4, 2023 by Jo Clifton

City Council on Thursday will consider two linked zoning cases that developers hope will result in tracts for multifamily uses under a unified zoning designation of MF-6, the highest density of multifamily zoning. Council approved the initial zoning for a 2.9-acre tract at 2700 S. Lamar Blvd. in 2021. This week, they will look at requests by Seamless LMA Ltd. to add two additional adjacent parcels, one on Lamar and one on Skyway Circle directly west of the previously zoned Lamar property.

Attorney Michael Whellan told the Austin Monitor this week, “Council decided in 2021 that they wanted a comprehensive, transit-supportive, mixed-use development for this site. All we’re doing in these follow-up cases is making the zoning cohesive so we can deliver on that vision.”

In a letter to the city, Whellan said after the zoning on the first tract was approved, the developers purchased two other MF-3 parcels on Skyway Circle adjacent to the original tract. The developer is requesting that the zoning on those properties at 2800 and 2801 Skyway Circle be rezoned to MF-6, making the zoning across the site consistent.

According to Whellan, the developer is committed to providing a tenant relocation package for the eight units that will be demolished in order to build the new buildings. They are also promising a “right to return” for eligible tenants. The developers are working with an arm of Habitat for Humanity called HomeBase. Whellan said his clients “have committed to providing 10 percent of the total number of units at 60 percent of the median family income.”

Some members of the nearby Zilker Neighborhood Association were not impressed by the developer’s promises. David Piper told the Austin American-Statesman in February, “The project … will inflate land values and threaten redevelopment of a large number of moderately affordable multifamily housing in the immediate area.”

In addition to the multifamily zoning changes, the developer is requesting commercial zoning, CS-V-MU, for its new property that faces South Lamar. The developer also wants to zone the property directly behind the Lamar-facing property as GR-V-MU. This is slightly different than the original request which was for retail, or GR, zoning as opposed to commercial zoning.

In a letter to Zoning Officer Joi Harden, Whellan wrote, “the local and national economic environment has meaningfully shifted,” causing the applicants to reconsider their requests. The change from retail to commercial zoning, he said, “would provide greater site development flexibility to help manage the challenging economic environment facing Austin, while also being consistent with zoning along South Lamar Boulevard.”

The Lamar properties are directly across from the intersection with Menchaca Road. Most of the properties along Lamar in this area are already commercially zoned.

Backup material for the case included this statement from the case manager: “The property in question has two older two story fourplexes and an area larger than the footprint of the building is being utilized as impervious cover. Parcels along South Lamar Boulevard are undergoing transition, many are vacant such as the old Goodwill store, presenting an opportunity for the ten MF-3 zoned parcels on Skyway Circle (all being utilized as fourplexes) to be considered for rezoning. This would provide a greater depth for more intense zoning along this major (Austin Strategic Mobility Plan) Level 3 corridor. This depth of more intense zoning has an established precedent along the corridor. Capital Metro’s 803 service is approximately 1,000 feet from the site.”

The Planning Commission unanimously approved the request this summer. Zilker resident Lorraine Atherton wrote to the commission on July 17, “This project will destroy 20 existing low cost dwelling units the type of housing the area most needs. The proposed new structures will violate the (Save Our Springs Ordinance) and destroy the surrounding infrastructure.” She asked them to deny the request.

According to backup material for the case, developers must comply with the SOS Ordinance on the part of the property that is within the Barton Springs Zone watershed.

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