The Daily Hustle: 1/14/11

Council punts, ponders PUDs

Ethereal trees of light: A community benefit of the Park PUD
Ethereal trees of light: A community benefit of the Park PUD (Photo courtesy www.austinparkpud.org)

A hurry-up-and-wait kinda day Thursday in City Council chambers, as council convened, quickly dispensed with the consent agenda, then went into executive session to mull the controversial contracts for decommissioning the Holly Power Plant.

More waiting still, as once they returned, they postponed any decision until their next meeting, January 27.

Making the motion, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez noted the council had two proposals “virtually identical in scoring … but we're off nearly $6 million in price.” The MPT then moved to postpone decision for two weeks, citing “a lot of questions to be answered, and a lot of research to do.” Lee Leffingwell also promised to “look very carefully at the scoring matrix … to ensure we come out with a valid result.” If the Hustle had something riding on it – say, $6 million – he imagines council would use that time to build some community consensus that second-place-scored bidder, Dixie Demolition, would do just as good a job – and save the cash-strapped city a pretty penny in the process.

The action didn't begin again in earnest until the 2pm zoning agenda, when the Park Planned Unit Development came up. Planning and Development Review Department director Greg Gurnsey started by going through the reasons staff recommended against PUD zoning – a more permissive zoning form allowing for additional height and density, in exchange for community benefits – stating “we feel it’s not in accordance with adopted new PUD” regulations. Leffingwell provided a hint as to how the vote would go soon after, noting it's hard to find 10 acre sites for development – the preferred PUD size – in the central city, and that to incentive central city infill development and density, there must be some flexibility in granting PUD zoning.

Attorney Steve Drenner, representing applicant Texas American Resources, the energy company seeking to build on the plot (the former Filling Station restaurant spot on Barton Springs) trumpeted the building's amenities, proximity to mass transit, added tax revenue, and much more. Several other speakers emerged in support, including many of those named in a seemingly hastily assembled press release announcing “Environmental Leaders for the Park.”

The opposition was lead off by neighborhood association activist Jeff Jack, calling the council “Deciders” (in a Dubya-comparing dis), and complaining about the potentially precedent setting nature of the vote.

When it came time for council action, Bill Spelman took the lead, going through the list of benefits – public, and private (to the developer) – the PUD zoning would bestow. Since the Park’s tortured history dates back years, before a revised PUD ordinance was put into place, the builders have the option to build under the less-exacting, original PUD standards. But as Spelman pointed out, they agreed to comply with the new ordinance’s green building and design standards

As for the precedent argument, Spelman rejected that outright. “That’s not before us right now. I don’t think there’s a particular precedent set by this case,” noting, should another applicant in the area come forward requesting PUD zoning, the decision still lies with the council. Chris Riley spoke animatedly in favor of the project, saying the city had been “striving for years to achieve a higher quality" of design in the area.” PUD zoning, he said would “secure protections” the builder would put up “a higher quality development.”

Laura Morrison, however, called that a “false choice,” saying “I believe we can have all those things” –  building standards and other benefits from the Park – without PUD zoning. (She didn’t get into specifics about how in her brief comments, though.) She went on to say Park “is not what the long term vision for Barton Springs is.” However, hers was the sole vote against the PUD, which, due to Planning Commission’s negative recommendation, only needed two nays not to pass.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

The Daily Hustle, City Council, Development, Neighborhoods, Park PUD, Planned Unit development, jeff Jack

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