By CASSIE MCKEE
Four Points News
In a vote of 7-4, the Austin City Council approved a controversial zoning change to the Champions tract at the corner of RM 2222 and City Park Road that will allow for the construction of a 325-unit apartment complex.
Concerned residents living in or nearby City Park Road neighborhoods say they object to the zoning change because the added traffic from the apartments will make an already dangerous road worse. They say they also oppose the many variations granted to ordinances such as the Hill Country Roadway Ordinance and the Lake Austin Watershed Ordinance.
Linda Solomon, who serves on the board of directors for the Westminster Glen HOA, has lived off City Park Road for the past 16 years. She said there have been six accidents, including one fatal accident, on City Park Road in the last 21 days.
“Please do not shoehorn in something that is going to make an already known unsafe intersection and road infinitely worse,” Solomon told the city council prior to their Nov. 10 vote.
Neighbors who own nearly 37 percent of property square footage within 200 feet of the tract submitted a petition against the rezoning to city staff; however, a last minute change by the developer to change the zoning boundaries by 200 feet invalidated their petition, further frustrating neighbors.
“Such a blatant move to remove citizen input is just ridiculous,” said resident Mary McAllister, who also lives nearby.
Following the council vote, longtime Glenlake resident Linda Bailey sent out a press release saying that the move was opposed by members of at least seven homeowner and neighborhood associations.
According to her release, Champions Tract 3 has been the subject of numerous neighborhood disputes and lawsuits against the City since 1994 and was already zoned to accommodate a more reasonable two-story, 30,000 square foot office building.
“With the City’s final blessing on (Nov. 10), however, developers will have the right to build a structure at least 10 times larger in an area that is environmentally sensitive and confirmed habitat for the endangered Golden-Cheeked Warbler,” the release stated.
District 10 city council member Sheri Gallo, who represents the City Park Road neighborhoods, voted against the zoning change. She said she and her staff met multiple times with representatives of the surrounding neighborhoods to hear their concerns and help them get their questions answered by city staff.
“Let me be very, very clear, I supported the neighbors and neighborhood associations who opposed this zoning case and voted against the rezoning of the Champion tract,” Gallo said. “I made my position very clear to Council the week before we had the final vote on Council that I was going to vote against the zoning case and support the neighbors.”
Bailey said she felt that Gallo should’ve made a more persuasive argument during the council meeting.
“She voted against it but usually most council members follow the lead of the member whose district it’s in,” Bailey said. “She didn’t say a word during the whole session. She sat there mute. And then at the very end she said she wasn’t going to vote for it. She let our neighborhood down.”
Gallo said she went beyond normal council procedure by ensuring that the public hearing was left open on this case for four council meetings so that the citizens and their experts had plenty of time to speak publically and the council members had ample opportunities to ask questions of the neighbors. She said because she was already knowledgeable about the issue, she wanted to give other council members a chance to ask questions at the meeting.
“I am truly baffled with why Linda Bailey is so angry at me when I supported her and her neighbors’ position and voted against this case,” Gallo said. “It seems like her anger would be more appropriately directed at the council members who did not support her and voted to approve the zoning case. I did in fact speak in opposition to the case during the meeting.”
In her public comments, Gallo said she agreed with the neighborhood concerns about traffic safety and that she wants to work on funding long-needed improvements on City Park Road.
“Regardless of what happens today with the zoning case, I want to work with the neighbors to try to figure out ways to find funding to improve this road because it certainly is an area that we need to spend some time and effort on,” Gallo said.