Naked City

HPBC: 37; Neighbors: 1

There may be no way to bring back the 37 homes that were demolished by Hyde Park Baptist Church through the 1980s, but the Alliance to Save Hyde Park is doing everything it can to stop the church from further scarring their neighborhood with a proposed block-long, five-story parking garage. This time, neighbors appear to have the city's blessing; on Tuesday, the Planning Commission adopted a last-minute resolution, brought by Commissioner Robin Cravey, recommending that the City Council appoint a task force to oversee renewed negotiations between the church and its neighbors on the terms of the church's Neighborhood Conservation and Combining District (NCCD). And -- although no one wanted to use the "M word," moratorium, directly -- commissioners overwhelmingly approved a recommendation that the council also consider halting major construction projects in Hyde Park until the area's neighborhood plan, currently being hammered out at the city level and expected to go before Planning in early January, is implemented by the council. Prior to the vote, which also pertained to two other Austin neighborhoods with pending neighborhood plans, commissioner Ben Heimsath commented, "The intent [of the resolution] is getting both parties to negotiate under the auspices of the council, and I don't see any reason that anything should be approved during that time."

The current Hyde Park Civic NCCD -- essentially a zoning overlay defining what can and can't be built in the area -- covers only a narrow swath of Hyde Park Baptist Church property; in its current form, which neighbors say they agreed to under duress and with incomplete information in 1990, the NCCD allows the church to build the parking garage, a 40,000-square-foot education building, and more surface parking in the neighborhood. The new NCCD, which would be negotiated under the terms of Hyde Park's neighborhood plan, could bring the entire Hyde Park area under a single set of development guidelines.

Interestingly, neighbors contend that under current compatibility standards, the five-story garage could not be built in Hyde Park or anywhere else in town -- even downtown in the Central Business District, where street-level amenities would be required. "Although we feel our neighborhood is special, we're not asking for special protections," said Stephen Wechsler, an ASHP member who testified Tuesday night. "We're asking for the protections that any other neighborhood in Austin is afforded, and that's what was taken away from us with this Civic NCCD."

The moratorium on construction permits is important because if the church were allowed to file a site plan for the parking garage before the new NCCD is negotiated, it could (thanks to HB 1704, which allows developers to build under less restrictive standards in place at the time site plans were filed) build the parking garage under the terms of the old NCCD, regardless of whether the neighborhood plan or new zoning district allows such developments. The church has reportedly requested a "completeness check" for the site (required before the site plan, which would require the vacation of an alley, can be approved) from the city's Development Review and Inspection Dept., prompting a sudden-death race between neighbors -- who want to get the motion to council as soon as possible -- and church leaders, who will try to get their site plan approved before that can happen.

This afternoon, Thursday, Dec. 16, the council will hold a special meeting -- called on Tuesday by Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman -- to consider the recommendations adopted by the Planning Commission. If council approves the recommendations, all major commercial development in the area could be halted until Hyde Park gets its neighborhood plan back from the city and reaches an agreement with the church on the terms of a new, improved NCCD for the area.

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Hyde Park Baptist Church, Alliance to Save Hyde Park, Planning Commission, Robin Cravey, Ben Heimsath, Neighborhood cCnservation andCombining District, Hyde Park Civic NCCD, neighborhood plan, Stephen Wechsler, HB 1704, Development Review and Inspection D

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