Naked City

Zoned Out?

Some longtime South Austin folks say Smart Growth has dealt them a hodgepodge of zoning changes in the form of the Dawson Neighborhood Plan Combining District, and they're none too happy. Though Dawson Neighborhood Association leaders support the plan, resident Kelley Smoot says "at least 200" residents and small-business owners have signed a petition opposing the changes to their neighborhood, a colorful, diverse area of mom-and-pop shops and older homes.

Smoot believes that only developers would benefit under the new plan, which would allow them to carve large lots into smaller ones to build more houses and garage apartments for greater profit. Small businesses such as El Flaco Cafe and Doug Scales Automotive are equally skeptical of the proposed changes, although for different reasons. They and other businesses have lined South First and South Congress with yard signs declaring, in English and Spanish, "This property owner and taxpayer says, No Zoning Changes!"

Is this much ado about nothing? Former Dawson NA president Cynthia Medlin believes so. Although City Council has already approved parts of the proposal on first and second reading and is expected to give the overall package a final nod on Oct. 4, the Council is willing to adjust the segment of the plan that addresses conditional-use overlay, she says. Conditional overlay would require some businesses to obtain a permit before expanding more than 20%. "What most of us were concerned about when we first started working on this plan was the proliferation of pawn shops and porn shops in the neighborhood," Medlin says. The original focus on automotive shops, she adds, "was to make the streets more pedestrian-friendly."

This week, council members and city staff continued to work on the conditional overlay language so it would not adversely affect existing businesses, said Sue Hounsel, a senior planner with the city. Nevertheless, Doug Scales Automotive owner Dell Shaw remains fearful that the changes might limit his business expansion plans. Shaw bought his shop last December, unaware that city planners and neighborhood leaders were hammering out a new zoning proposal for the neighborhood. Should the city reinsert the original conditional overlay into the final plan, Shaw said, he would have to spend a small fortune just to add on an office. "I'd have to get the permission of the neighborhood association and go to the planning commission," he laments. "It's just not worth it."

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