River Place residents unite to derail density of new Milky Way Dr. community

On April 2, Milky Way Drive resident Tracey Schalscha said she hopes the commission would act to preserve the nature of the community she chose to live in about 18 months ago. LESLEE BASSMAN

Commission fails to make a recommendation on Milestone’s zoning request

By LESLEE BASSMAN, Four Points News

With Four Points residents voicing their opposition, Austin’s Zoning and Platting Commission could not come to a consensus for a ruling after it heard a petition April 2 by Milestone Community Builders to rezone about 42 acres off Milky Way Drive in River Place, an action that would pave the way for a residential project for some 45 homes.

The sticking point for commissioners appeared to be the lot size, with staff recommending a minimum lot size of 21,000-square-feet, or half an acre, and residents — supported by the River Place Homeowners Association — clamoring for a minimum tract size of 30,000-square-feet, or three-fourths of an acre.

Milestone’s proposal

This latest proposal marks a four-year battle over the project and the developer’s representative, Jeffrey Howard, principal at McLean & Howard LLP, argued it is a less intensive plan than the developer’s original 2015 petition of 110 homesites on smaller lots. That petition was not acted upon and a new petition for 82 units and a request for annexation by the city of Austin was later filed, he said.

The property is located within the city of Austin’s limited purpose jurisdiction and access to the project will be through a cul de sac at the end of Milky Way Drive. The entire site is currently zoned Development Reserve, and also includes a second tract that is slated to be developed into an autism center.

Howard told commissioners that River Place, as a whole, and the adjacent Long Canyon neighborhood have many topography changes with that condition “not unique” to just the Milestone property. He said, as a result of the topographical changes, these neighborhoods also feature many cul de sacs with only one access, making the Milestone project in line with the surrounding area. Additionally, looking at River Place as a whole, the community sports three to four homes per acre and, therefore, Milestone’s proposition is a “compatible land use,” he said.

Howard said Milestone will seek emergency access for the property from the adjacent church or elementary school; however, it won’t be able to get permanent access from the Autism Trust tract whose proprietors want a tranquil and quiet place for residents.

According to Howard, staff’s recommendation of 21,000-square-foot lot sizes and 45 homesites is a compromise from an initial 18,000-square-foot lot size and numerous more homesites. He said the neighborhood was prepared to accept 45 homes as appropriate for the site.

“We are meeting the neighborhood in the middle,” Howard said. “We are addressing access and environmental issues.”

Zoning and Platting Commission

Planning and Zoning Department staffer Sherri Sirwaitis agreed, saying her group’s recommendation of the new proposal was based, in part, on the size differences being a compromise. Commission Chairperson Jolene Kiolbassa said the group had previously approved a 30,000-square-foot lot size minimum for the project.

Howard said the only plausible land use concern would be traffic but the prior land use allowed by city staff was double the number of homes the developer is now prepared to put on the property.

“Milky Way can handle that traffic; that’s what it’s designed to do,” Howard said.

In addition to the 21,000-square-foot minimum lot size, the Single Family Residence-Large Lot-Conditional Overlay zoning requested by Milestone would limit the project’s density to a  maximum of 45 homes and have no more than 2,000 vehicle trips per day for the project.

The rezoning would double the minimum 10,000-square-foot lot size designated by the standard SF-1 zoning designation for the heavily wooded property that staff conceded may be “challenging” to develop. In its supporting materials, staff stated that the proposed zoning category is appropriate for properties with “topographical constraints,” adding that the project includes larger lot sizes consistent with the existing homes on Milky Way Drive. Staff found that the proposal is a reasonable use of the property.

River Place residents

River Place residents cited safety and traffic concerns stemming from the plan that boasts a density which doesn’t fit with the one-acre-plus lot sizes in the Milky Way and adjacent Merrywing Circle community.

Milky Way resident Tracey Schalscha attended the hearing in hopes that city officials will preserve the look and feel of the neighborhood, the reason she said her family relocated to the development from Arizona about 18 months ago.

“Being close to the city and yet still have a large lot size where at the spread of the homes and the size of the homes is conducive to preserving the natural beauty of Austin,” Schalscha said.

Milky Way resident Brenda Langford said she was concerned about the added wildfire risks from the increased population and the safety of students crossing the Milky Way intersection with River Place Boulevard to get to their elementary school at the front of the subdivision.


Milky Way resident Ted Gaunt started a petition about ten days before the hearing and presented the petition, with its more than 300 signatures, at the hearing. The document stated that residents of the new Milestone community won’t immediately join the River Place Homeowners Association and therefore, will not be accountable to the same rules as the rest of the neighborhood. The project will also create an additional strain on first responders, increase wildfire risks and cause more traffic, the petition states.


Along with the petition, the River Place Homeowners Association March 25 letter to the city’s Planning and Development Review Department supported a minimum lot size of 30,000 square feet, vehicle trip limit of less than 2,000 trips per day and a maximum of 25 homes on the site.

River Place HOA President Scott Crosby singled out the project as being the sole area in River Place with 69 homes and containing only one exit.

“No other place within River Place has 69 homes that have to exit out of one road,” he said.

The hearing was postponed from March 19 at the request of the River Place neighborhood. The matter is slated to go before Austin City Council on Thursday without a recommendation from the city’s Platting and Zoning Commission.

River Place Firewise Coordinator Randall Jamieson addresses city of Austin Platting and Zoning Commissioners on April 2 regarding the added fire risk a new Milky Way Drive community would bring to the neighborhood. LESLEE BASSMAN