City Hall Hustle: Park Pud? Pick Your Punch Line.
In the City Hall sitcom, the PUD jokes write themselves
Of course, there's one designation that doesn't need explanation: PUD, or "planned unit development," instantly committed to memory due to ample comedic potential (see: pulling my ..., chewing their ..., etc.). But the Park PUD, returning to City Council on Thursday, Jan. 13, following a postponement, is no laughing matter to neighborhood opponents.
In theory, this is the final stop in the convoluted history of the controversial proposal. The Park PUD was initially floated back in 2008 and was turned down by the Board of Adjustment. Fast-forward to early 2010, where it was similarly dissed by the Planning Commission.
One key issue is Park's lack of PUDness. PUD zoning is traditionally granted to large, multifaceted projects on a large tract, like the Domain. City guidelines recommend a 10-acre minimum for PUD zoning within the city. By contrast, the Park PUD, which proposes construction of an office tower with a restaurant at 801 Barton Springs Rd., across from Palmer Events Center, clocks in at a whopping three-fourths of an acre and doesn't comply with either the neighborhood plan or existing zoning.
So why, after its semitortured history, is the Park PUD returning now? We wager that applicant Texas American Resources (represented by law firm Drenner & Golden Stuart Wolff) has trimmed its original ludicrous request for a height from 180 feet down to 96 feet (still only allowable via PUD zoning), and it's hoping council will be eager to see new construction of any kind in our stumbling local economy.
The investors may be right. Despite a staff recommendation to deny PUD zoning, not to mention the Planning Commission's denial, which triggers a requirement for a council supermajority – six votes – to pass, it's difficult to count on a definitive no-vote on the project aside from Council Member Laura Morrison. Morrison has certainly been persuaded by opposition from the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Association, which argues that the Park would drastically overtop the neighborhood plan's 60-foot height limit.
Maybe council will be swayed by the "community benefits" accompanying the project – pay parking, for ludicrous example – lampooned in a video repeatedly landing in the Hustle's inbox, called "How To Win Your Very Own Personal PUD in Austin, Texas." It's one of those Xtranormal videos (posted online with this column), which allows anyone to generate a computer-animated clip simply by typing in a script, and what it lacks in humor, it makes up in hectoring. At its close, a cartoon developer makes a campaign contribution to the cartoon City Council member and gets his permissive zoning.
Rainey on Our Parade?
Also on the Hustle's 2011 to-do list: become less of a hater (maybe!) of music permitting issues. Used to be, any sound-related issue raised by the landed gentry, their ears valiantly bleeding until an ungodly hour like 10pm, invariably provoked eye rolling from yours truly that exceeded the 85-decibel limit. Many cases still do, but the trouble of striking a balance between a burgeoning music and entertainment scene and existing neighbors is nowhere more apparent right now than on Rainey Street.
Rainey seemingly has it all: a lakefront nearby and close enough to Downtown and East Austin for those urban grime grace notes. Restaurant and bar owners have noticed, opening a stream of hip haunts and eateries.
This Thursday, one of those establishments – Lustre Pearl – faces a challenge of its outdoor music venue permit by a neighbor. Staff recommends denial of the appeal, noting that the bar has adjusted the permitted hours and built a stage oriented away from nearby homes. Yet the appeal does raise questions, if not about sound restrictions per se, then about the once sleepy neighborhood's absorption (or saturation) of new establishments and traffic.
Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez, who recently met with Rainey residents, says the issue goes deeper than a few errant food trailers and Pabst specials: "About 10 years ago, conversations started happening surrounding the building and expansion of the Convention Center," which led to incentives to develop neighboring Rainey. Zoning was the easiest tool at the city's disposal, and Rainey was zoned Central Business District like the rest of Downtown. "By the time we got to rezoning all that ... that's literally when the economy dropped out from under us," Martinez says. So with more ambitious projects on hold but CBD zoning in place, the way was cleared for cocktail bars like Lustre Pearl.
"We're trying to come up with a plan to address the lighting, parking, and pedestrian-access concerns" raised by residents of the dozen or so homes along Rainey, Martinez says. Longer term, "there is a conversation about creating a conditional use permit for a cocktail lounge use – you wouldn't have to go through a zoning change ... but it would cause at least one public hearing, some conversations to take place, and ultimately a council vote. ... Instead of waiting for concerns after the establishment is opened, we'd try to get out in front of them."
No permit required for the Hustle's weekly newsletter. Sign up at austinchronicle.com/newsletters.