By JO CLIFTON , Austin Monitor
City Council approved a zoning change for a second Champion tract a couple of weeks ago, but this time the developer had support from several neighborhoods who had opposed a zoning change earlier this year.
With Council Member Alison Alter dissenting, Council approved the change on first reading that will allow Endeavor Real Estate Group to build public storage units on the property at 6500 RM 2222. Neither Council Member Ellen Troxclair nor Council Member Leslie Pool were on the dais for this vote.
A number of neighbors, including Carol Lee, who was a staunch opponent of rezoning on an earlier Champion case, supported the change from Neighborhood Commercial (LR) to General Commercial Services (CS) with a conditional overlay that only allows public storage on the property.
An important element of the decision is that a group of neighborhoods agreed to enter into a private restrictive covenant with the developer that prohibits any use other than storage.
Lee told Council that representatives of Endeavor Real Estate had done “a tremendous job” in reaching out to neighborhoods. “We had some open, honest conversation, and I think that is how developers and neighbors ought to work together, so I do commend their efforts on that.”
She said the board of a group of neighborhoods known as the 2222 Council of Neighborhood Associations, also known as 2222 CONA, “does support the rezoning to CS with the incorporation of the staff conditions that have been recommended.”
Attorney Richard Suttle, representing Endeavor Real Estate, explained that even though the property looks like a 13-acre tract, in reality only 3.7 acres are usable because of the terrain.
“The conversations with the neighbors, as I understand it, went something like – what would be the lowest traffic generator in this area – because as we know traffic has always been an issue here. And self-storage is a very low traffic generator. The unfortunate part about self-storage,” Suttle said, is that the lowest zoning allegory that allows for such a use is CS.
“The case was filed with CS zoning with the narrow limitation of just self-storage as the only CS use,” he said, showing Council a picture of unobtrusive storage buildings.
“Buildings would tuck in, be way off the curb and generate very little traffic,” Suttle said.
Council agreed to the staff recommendation limiting the property to 470 trips per day and prohibiting uses that are prohibited in the Limited Office (LO) district, except for convenience storage.
One neighbor who did not agree to the zoning change was Marisa Lipscher, president of the Shepherd Mountain Neighborhood Association. Lipscher told Council that although her neighborhood appreciated the efforts by the developer to come to an agreement with the neighborhoods, her small neighborhood was still not comfortable with the zoning change. She asked Council to support the Zoning and Platting Commission’s recommendation, which was to reject the change.
“Our neighborhood is very close to this location, and we have learned that the best protections are, if at all, with city zoning – not with private restrictive covenants that will never be recognized by the city of Austin,” Lipscher said.
Under questioning from Mayor Steve Adler, Lipscher said she was mostly concerned about what might happen if this Council or another one decided to remove the conditional overlay on the property. She said her neighborhood, which has only about 200 homes, is not wealthy enough to fight a developer who wanted to change the use of the property.
After Alter failed to amend the zoning, she said she wanted to talk to the applicant about adding a rollback provision to the private restrictive covenant.
This latest proposal for storage units is a different than the proposal for the land earlier this year.
In February, Council’s vote allowed a 300-unit residential development to go forward with plans to the chagrin of many nearby residents who have vehemently opposed the project, which they say threatens an environmentally sensitive area.
Austin Monitor, an online, nonpartisan, 501(c)3 nonprofit publication that covers local government and politics in and around Austin.