By CASSIE MCKEE, LYNETTE HAALAND
Four Points News
The River Place HOA and residents have expressed support for the Autism Trust’s plans to build an Autism Center in River Place, even though they still want fewer homes built in the adjacent tract than what the builder is proposing. Plans for the two sections of land both involve Milestone Community Builders, which wants to build homes on the 42-acre site and make large donations to the Autism Trust on the 40-acre site.
“I do believe the Autism Center as envisioned would be wonderful for serving a community that needs support,” said Brenda Langford, a River Place resident.
Autism Trust leaders are waiting on the city Zoning and Platting Commission hearing — which has been rescheduled multiple times and is now set for Feb. 21 — results before they can go ahead with their plans to build the Autism Center, Austin on 40 acres that was gifted to them.
The reason for the ZAP hearing is that Milestone is requesting a SF2 zoning to build more houses on the 42-acre site than the current SF1 zoning allows. The SF1 zoning of the nearby Milky Way Drive area has lot size limits of one home per acre, Milestone’s most recent request is to have a cap of 82 homes on the site.
Langford said the neighborhood opposes Milestone’s zoning request for SF2 zoning primarily because of traffic and safety concerns. There is already limited sight on the road due to the topography and many residents cross Milky Way Drive to walk or bike to school. Also, added homes adds to the traffic count which can be a concern in case of an evacuation to the main exit, River Place Boulevard.
Langford said she supports the Autism Trust and wants to work with the organization to help it succeed.
“I have asked many times about how to help the Autism Trust achieve their goals without such dependence on Milestone. No one seems to give an answer. Basically, we just keep hearing, ‘Milestone is our only hope so whatever it takes to get Milestone what they want, it’s justified because that’s how the Autism Trust gets their development.’ That is very a very one-sided approach,” Langford said.
Autism Trust co-founder Jonathan Tommey said he supports Milestone’s zoning request and that the builder has agreed to donate a huge amount of work to help get his non-profit off the ground. He said if the builder backs out of the project, it would cost his non-profit millions in time and fundraising costs.
Jeff Howard, attorney to Milestone, said Milestone plans to work with The Autism Trust facilities in two ways: (1) proceeds from the sale of the property to Milestone from landowner Berta Bradley will be used to create an endowment for operations, and (2) Milestone will construct all autism center site improvements and a major building facility (to add to an existing building) for Autism Trust.
“This means that Autism Trust will immediately have facilities and operational funds to commence their important mission,” Howard said. “Those two benefits will only happen if the zoning for both the residential and autism center tracts is approved. In fact, residential density that is too low (as proposed by the city staff) will result much, much slower lot absorption and much, much lower returns making this critical assistance to the Autism Trust infeasible for any developer, not just Milestone.”
In the Jan. 18 edition of Four Points News, Tommey said while he understands the concerns of residents on Milky Way, he doesn’t agree with them.
“They’ve got houses worth $1.5 million and that’s what they want at the end of the street,” Tommey said. “I can understand that but I can also oppose that because it means our center could be in jeopardy.”
The Autism Trust’s future plans include the creation of a vocational and life skills program for adults with autism. The leaders also envision a future residential program, featuring multiple single-story, one- to two-bedroom cottages.
The River Place HOA supports the Autism Trust’s plans and submitted a letter to the city on Dec. 14 saying it supports the Autism Trust zoning request of General Office with a Conditional Overlay, as it would prohibit certain uses, limit vehicle trips per day and prohibit access onto Milky Way Drive.
The HOA letter says the HOA also supports the recommendation of city staff for the Milestone tract, which is to grant a zoning of SF-1-CO, Single-Family Residence-Large Lot-Conditional Overlay Combining District zoning. That would limit the size of each lot to a minimum of 30,000 square feet and limit the entire site to less than 2,000 vehicle trips per day.
“The proposed zoning, conditional overlay and limitation on vehicle trips per day provide an acceptable compromise for this proposed development,” the letter states.