Autism center, housing development will now be considered together
By CASSIE MCKEE
Four Points News
MileStone Community Builders, the developer at the center of a controversial zoning dispute in River Place, has submitted an amended zoning application for the 82-acre tract, forcing the case to go back to the Zoning and Platting Commission for reconsideration. The date for the ZAP hearing has not been set yet.
One of the biggest changes is that instead of dividing the land into two separate zoning cases — one for a proposed autism center and the other for a MileStone housing development at the end of Milky Way Drive — and considering the requests separately, the two cases will now be combined into one.
A letter from a MileStone representative was sent on April 27 to Greg Guernsey, director of the planning and zoning department for the city of Austin, notifying the city of MileStone’s intent to modify its application. The zoning case was scheduled to go before the Austin City Council on May 4 for its first public hearing but will now be postponed so that the case can go before ZAP.
“As has been repeated throughout the entire process of this case, the development proposal for each tract is inextricably tied to the other and both portions of the overall development plan rely on the other as a cohesive development plan in order to provide a successful project,” the letter states. “In the end, approving a rezoning on only one portion of the development would not bring the overall project to fruition with the compromises and community benefits that are, in essence, a package to ensure a viable planned project.”
While the majority of the River Place community supports the proposed autism center, many are opposed to the proposed MileStone housing development due to concerns about the increased traffic.
In the original application, MileStone was seeking to build 82 homes on a 42-acre tract. According to the amended application, MileStone is now seeking to build 42 homes on a 27.7 acre tract. The development would be accessed from Milky Way Drive.
“The language used in MileStone’s proposal is just spin,” said River Place resident Ted Gaunt. “MileStone’s proposal tries to justify pushing 42 homes onto an even smaller piece of land, by saying (something along the lines of) ‘The neighborhood wanted 42 homes and was only interested in the number of homes.’ That is untrue and a complete disregard for what our community has been asking for. The concern has always been the amount of traffic that the higher density would drive through River Place.”
The other big change in the amended application is that the now 54-acre tract for the proposed autism center would also have 150 condominium units. That development would be accessed from Sitio Del Rio Boulevard.
“Now they want 150 condo units, and 42 (houses)?” Gaunt said. “That is way more traffic than their original proposal of 110 homes. They lost at zoning and knew they’d lose at city council for their 82-home proposal. Now they want 192 (homes)? All of that traffic is going to contend with the limited intersection to enter and exit River Place. The 150 condo unit traffic is going to intersect with the sensitive elementary school private road and cause a hazard. There is too much developer-greed in this new proposal, and I don’t expect the neighborhood to sit back and let this happen.”
Scott Crosby, chairman of the River Place Homeowners Association, said he invited representatives from MileStone to the HOA meeting on May 2 but was told that they would not be ready with all the details needed to make a public presentation.
“We have agreed to a meeting as soon as MileStone is ready,” Crosby said. “The HOA remains supportive of the Autism Trust. We also feel the issues the zoning commission originally identified in voting against the MileStone development remain — traffic safety, increased density and wildfire risk. The project now has even more houses or condos thereby increasing the density and wildfire risk and an exit to the north could actually increase the traffic safety concern.”
Crosby said the two cases should be decided separately.
“We understand MileStone’s motive behind having these two cases decided as one but we respectfully disagree,” Crosby added. “They are trying to use a charitable contribution to the Autism Trust in order to obtain approval of a zoning case. There remains two zoning decisions that need to be made, one for the Autism Trust and one for the residential development, and they should be made based on zoning principles only.”
Garrett Martin, president of MileStone Community Builders, said that the proposal is still preliminary and is not finalized.
“Overall, we are working on a fresh proposal that we hope parties will recognize and agree will address neighborhood concerns, create new housing that Austin needs, and fulfill the dream of the Autism Center,” Martin said. “We will provide more details and specifics soon.”
The zoning case will now go back to the ZAP Commission but a date has not been set yet, according to Sherri Sirwaitis, a zoning case manager for the city.
“The staff needs an opportunity to review the revised rezoning application and to make a recommendation on the new information,” Sirwaitis said. “When the case is rescheduled, a Notice of Public Hearing will be sent out to all property owners, renters, and registered neighborhood associations within 500 feet of the proposed rezoning area.”