Hearing set for Feb . 21 after 9 postponements
By CASSIE MCKEE
Four Points News
A hearing by the Austin Zoning and Platting Commission to consider a rezoning request for two parcels of land at the end of Milky Way Drive in River Place has been rescheduled to Feb. 21.
It is the ninth postponement for the zoning request, which was originally filed more than a year and a half ago by Milestone Community Builders, the applicant that wants to build a new residential housing development on one plat of land, and The Autism Trust, which is occupying the other plat.
Milestone is requesting an SF2 zoning to build more houses on the 42-acre site than the current SF1 zoning allows. Milky Way is currently SF1 with a conditional overlay that essentially makes the average lot size well over 1 acre per home. Milestone is requesting to build up to 82 homes.
River Place residents do not want the zoning to change to something other than what has been established adjacent to the property because of safety and traffic issues, and they want to keep the neighborhood design. But residents are willing to support recommendations made by ZAP staff to limit the development to 2/3-acre lots which would equal 40-50 homes.
“To design this last portion of River Place, the residents have been supportive of changing the zoning from ‘DR’, which only allows a single home to be built, to something like the SF1 CO (conditional overlay) 1-acre that matches the zoning decisions made 18 years ago,” said Ted Gaunt, a resident on Milky Way Drive.
So what is the reason for all the postponements?
The latest postponement was made at the request of The Autism Trust, because the founders were going to be out of town on Jan. 17, when the hearing was to take place.
The postponement before that was made at the request of the River Place neighborhood.
“The River Place Community is responsible for only one of the Zoning Commission meeting delays,” said Scott Crosby, president of the River Place Homeowners Association. “We requested the Jan. 3 meeting be postponed so that individuals wishing to speak at the Zoning Commission meeting were back from holiday vacations.”
Another postponement was made last year at the request of Milestone.
“Milestone has requested only one postponement request,” said Jeffrey Howard, an attorney who represents Milestone.
The original postponements were requested by city staff were so that the Neighborhood Traffic Analysis for the zoning cases could be completed, according to Sherri Sirwaitis with the city’s planning and zoning department.
In cases, the postponements were a result of the city waiting on responses from Milestone, sources say.
Sirwaitis said there is no limit to the number of postponements that can be requested.
“It is the Commission’s policy to grant all first postponement requests by the staff, applicant and the neighborhood,” Sirwaitis said. “After that, the postponement requests are usually discussed.”
Gaunt, a resident on Milky Way Drive, said he attended the Jan. 17 ZAP meeting and asked the commission to reject any additional postponements.
“I asked them to consider the effect of this long one-and-a-half year process on the community, and to please reject any additional postponements,” Gaunt said. “Jeff Howard, attorney to Milestone, verbally agreed to that at the meeting.”
River Place residents say they are ready for the hearing to take place with no more postponements, and they want to clarify their position.
“We are not opposed to rezoning. We entered this process simply asking for the zoning to be consistent with that of the adjacent neighborhood,” said Brian Showers, River Place resident.
In this case, that statute of consistent zoning is all the more important since the adjacent neighborhood on Milky Way Drive is the only way in or out of the new development, Showers added.
The River Place homeowners find that the city staff’s recommendation of a less dense zoning at SF1 with a CO allowing for one home per 2/3 acre is a “reasonable compromise,” he said.
“What we find unacceptable is to grant Milestone’s request of SF2 zoning. That request is not compatible with the city’s zoning goals for fire safety, traffic and consistent zoning,” Showers said.
“Milestone and Mr. Toomey are requesting the SF2 zoning specifically to increase profit margins for Milestone, so that a portion of that profit can be used for fundraising towards the Autism Trust. While we appreciate that Mr. Toomey would like to raise funds as quickly as possible, subverting the tenants of zoning is not the proper way to raise funds. To do so uses our city zoning code to effectively issue an irrevocable tax on the current and future residents of the surrounding neighborhoods,” Showers said.
He continues that increasing a builder’s profit margin is not one of the Austin’s principles of zoning.
“Furthermore, to suggest that the residents of Milky Way Drive are trying to stand in the way of a charitable donation from Milestone is simply untrue,” Showers said. “It’s not a charitable donation when it will only be given if profits from the neighboring development can be artificially increased by applying inconsistent zoning.”
Milky Way resident Brenda Langford said the neighborhood opposes Milestone’s zoning request for SF2 zoning primarily because of traffic and safety concerns because the proposed development backs up to canyonlands.
“There is a huge fire risk and trying to get 134 families out onto River Place Boulevard with 1000+ (families) in River Place also using that as the main exits pose a great danger if there ever were a fire,” Langford said.
She said also that the left turn onto Milky Way is a risk. The topography creates a very limited sight distance and several accidents have already happened there while yielding to oncoming traffic waiting to turn left.
“One resident actually had their car totaled,” Langford said.
Many homes in River Place do not have bus service to River Place Elementary, meaning many must cross Milky Way Drive to walk or bike to school, she added.
“There is limited sight distance when approaching River Place Boulevard on Milky Way Drive and a larger development increases the risk to the kids crossing Milky Way,” Langford said. “The Milky Way residents and River Place residents have been asking for a more limited development to minimize the increased risks associated.”
She said residents support a recommendation made by ZAP staff to limit the development to 2/3-acre lots, which would equate to about 40-50 homes.
“Although this increases traffic on Milky Way 200 percent, we are supporting the staff’s recommendation because we feel that although it is not equivalent to the Milky Way zoning it is reasonable and more responsible,” Langford said.
Another resident, who wishes to remain anonymous, states equal sentiments: No matter what the value of the home is, no homeowner would want to lose 10 to 20 percent of their retirement equity due to new zoning declaration that would bring down their property value.
“Yes, it is about the safety, the kids, the traffic, the neighborhood design. And yes, it is also because I’ll have to work an extra couple years of my life to make up for that value hit to my home… and so will dozens (of) other hard working families and community supporters,” the resident said.
Negotiations have been going on for approximately a year and a half and continue to go on between Milestone, the Autism Trust, Austin Christian Fellowship church, which is adjacent to the parcel, and representatives from the River Place community.
“We have had numerous and extensive discussions with CONA 2222, River Place HOA, residents of Milky Way, Austin Christian Fellowship representatives and Leander ISD representatives,” said Howard, the attorney representing Milestone. “These discussions have included small-scale meetings, HOA meetings, numerous emails and phone calls and community meetings facilitated by an Austin Council Member and hosted by the church.”
Milestone has agreed to make several significant contributions to the Autism Trust nonprofit at its adjacent, 40-acre site if the deal goes through.
Milestone has scaled back the number of homes it wants to build on the 42-acre site, from its original request of 110 homes to 82 homes, which takes approval from the ZAP Commission.
“Most recently we have agreed to an 82-unit cap,” said Howard. “We have also worked with the Austin Christian Fellowship to develop assurances for the success of the autism center and to address construction impacts to Milky Way.”