Council Poised to Bless Camelback
Neighbors bet on one developer to save them from another
The Camelback planned unit development returns to City Council today, Oct. 18, trailing in its wake the not-quite-concluded fight over the nearby Champion Tract 3. Officially, the Camelback PUD is an amendment to the already permitted Hidden Valley PUD, grandfathered since 1987 and conceived back then as primarily a single-family development. The Camelback version would be more dense, multi-use, and with a smaller building footprint, as well as allowing public access to preserved parkland that is currently being used unofficially (i.e., not quite legally) by visitors attracted by the nearby Pennybacker Bridge and the spectacular views of the Hill Country and the city skyline. ("The Champion of Camelback?" Aug. 17)
The PUD proposal arrives at Council (Items 56 and 64) bearing a city staff recommendation for approval (with conditions, accepted by the developer) as well as votes in support by the Parks and Recreation Board (7-1), Environmental Commission (7-2), and Zoning and Platting Commission (6-2-2). Moreover, the immediately surrounding neighborhood associations (nine are cited in the backup for the item) have expressed strong support, along with the Lake Austin Collective and even the executive committee of the Austin Neighborhoods Council. Most or all of these endorsers fiercely opposed the apartment project now permitted for the Champion Tract 3; their support for Camelback owner/developer Jonathan Coon is based not only on what they describe as his collaborative outreach to his future neighbors (his own home will be on the site), but also on his plan to exercise a purchase option on the Champion Tract and to downsize that project into a senior living center, with presumably less traffic impact on City Park Road and the surrounding neighborhoods.
However, support for the PUD is not unanimous. Two neighborhood groups across Lake Austin from Camelback – the Bunny Run NA and homeowners in the smaller Aqua Verde subdivision – oppose the project in general, as a potential environmental blight along the shore, and more specifically object to plans for residential boat docks, with some form of an elevator allowing access from the docks to the land above the cliffside. (City environmental staff prefers an access elevator with the least impact on the cliffside, while lakeside neighbors worry such a structure will ruin the sylvan view.)
Timing is also an issue. Coon's option on the Champion property (currently owned by Houston-based Slate Real Estate Partners) was initially set to expire Sept. 1, but has been extended to Nov. 2, and the project's supporters – who attended the Oct. 2 ZAP meeting in considerable numbers – accuse opponents of hoping to delay any decision until the option expires. At that meeting, Coon said that the option schedule is also tied to the golden-cheeked warbler spring nesting season – if Slate is to clear the Champion site, it must begin by November in order to finish before March.
Coon told ZAP that the two projects are "absolutely connected – we wouldn't do one without the other." In response to Chronicle questions, he said his Champion project would "reduce the [Slate] development from 366,000 square feet to 120,000 square feet and ... reduce daily trips by 75% and peak hour trips by 90%." Numerous NA-member supporters have made it clear that their enthusiasm for the PUD is thoroughly enmeshed with the presumed downsizing on the Champion Tract.
As the PUD proposal arrives at Council, it presumably has the staff, commission, and neighborhood winds at its back. Nevertheless, Council will likely be treated to one more rendition of the conflicting arguments.