First Project Under New Ordinance Gets Nod
Project in Barton Springs Zone wins unanimous council approval
City Council last week unanimously approved the first big construction job affected by a 2007 redevelopment ordinance that establishes rules for old or abandoned building sites in the Barton Springs Zone. In this case, Cypress Real Estate Advisors will tackle a vacant Cinemark Theatre on a sprawling parking lot in the sensitive recharge zone of the Edwards Aquifer, which feeds the springs. The planned multi-use project, Tarlton 360 Townhomes, is at Loop 360 and Walsh Tarlton Lane, just west of Barton Creek Square mall.
It's rare for the council to wholly unite behind a major development project that is strongly opposed by a neighborhood association. But after extensive questioning of staff members and Cypress representatives, including attorney/lobbyist David Armbrust, council members expressed satisfaction that the project met the environmental standards under the ordinance. The South Beecave Woods Neighborhood Association charged that a flawed process – including a missed deadline by the developer, a faulty traffic impact study, and the Zoning and Platting Commission's questionable reversal of a vote on the matter – all warranted delaying the project for reconsideration. In June, the zoning commission had initially denied the requested development waivers, then changed its vote to approve them after a short recess (see "Neighborhood Wins, Then Loses at ZAP," June 3). The switch came after Cypress agreed to remove one of the project's buildings from a natural slope.
But the zoning commission should not have considered the site plan at all because of a missed deadline, said Lynne Harrison-David, president of the South Beecave Woods Neighborhood Association. "Now, if we miss a deadline, we're done," Harrison-David said. "But it seems to me that this is a moving target when it is a question of neighborhoods against large developers."
Nevertheless, after hearing assurances from city attorneys, council moved the project forward, with Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole making the motion to approve. Council's two major neighborhood supporters – Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo – joined in giving the deal their blessing while acknowledging that things could have been handled better during zoning and platting. Besides the waivers, council also gave Cypress 10 years – instead of the five recommended by the zoning commission – to build out the project, given market uncertainty. As Tovo explained before her vote, "While we have an option of sending it back to [ZAP], it seems to me that one of the parties could appeal and we would be back at the same decision point again. I'm not sure there's a lot to be gained from going back through that process."
Mayor Lee Leffingwell, credited with spearheading the redevelopment ordinance as a companion to the Save Our Springs Ordinance, lauded the project for improving water quality standards at the site and the developer's agreement to kick in more than $1 million in mitigation fees, including $400,000 for open space in the Barton Springs Zone. "This project does exactly what was intended by the redevelopment ordinance," he said. "It improves water quality."