Camelback PUD Ambles Forward

City Council gives preliminary approval to major northwest Austin development

Illustration of Camelback PUD map by owners' planning team: We're not sure who named it, said Jonathan Coon.
Illustration of "Camelback" PUD map by owners' planning team: "We're not sure who named it," said Jonathan Coon. (Courtesy of Jonathan Coon)

Following a couple of hours of testimony and discussion at City Council last Thursday, Oct. 18, the proposed Camel­back planned unit development took another step toward realization: Council voted unanimously to approve the PUD on first reading. Subject to Council amendments, additional staff review, and a tentatively final vote (second and third reading) on Nov. 1 – one day ahead of the Nov. 2 expiration of the owner's option to purchase the nearby Champion Tract 3 – the PUD appears likely to move forward.

Although the 144-acre Camelback tract (on the north side of Lake Austin, near the Pennybacker Bridge, planned to include residences, commercial offices, and a restaurant) is not contiguous to the Champion Tract (on FM 2222 at City Park Road), the two tracts have become intertwined since Camelback owner/developer Jonathan Coon agreed to neighbors' requests that he purchase the Champion land from Houston-based Slate Real Estate Partners and then downsize the apartment project planned for that site into a senior living center, with presumably less impact on nearby traffic. (Coon is also providing 26 acres of dedicated parkland, and its maintenance, to the city, thereby persuading the Parks and Recreation Board to support the project.) The Environmental Commission and Zoning and Platting Com­mission also voted to approve, and nine nearby neighborhood associations are supporting the PUD – their Council testimony made it clear that Coon's responsiveness in discussions and his willingness to incorporate the Champion project into his plans had much to do with their support.

"Shouldn't we listen to the citizens of Austin who have met and worked closely with Mr. Coon for over a year?" one neighbor asked Council.

There remains some opposition – primarily from residents across Lake Austin, who say the boat docks and clubhouse will not comply with regulations protecting the lake. District 10 CM Alison Alter added several conditions before the vote, while other CMs raised additional questions for staff to pursue before the Nov. 1 consideration. Most of these have to do with the docks and clubhouse planned for the shoreline, and the "mechanical access" up the cliffside to the main development. Environmental staff is wary of electronic trams cluttering and damaging lakeshore cliffsides, but Coon says his version would have little impact on the cliff or the neighbors' views. Roy Waley of the Sierra Club – while otherwise applauding the collaboration of owner and neighbors – argued that the clubhouse should be located above the cliff, for environmental and safety reasons. (A mediation will occur prior to the final vote, in hopes of additional compromise.)

Responding to the Council vote, Coon said he's "grateful for the time the Council, their staff, and everyone at the city of Austin has invested in this case." Since his purchase option on the Champion Tract expires Nov. 2, he said he's scheduled to close on that property immediately following final Council approval, and (as subject to the PUD agreement) "the property will be restricted to 120,000 square feet of senior living."

Coon wasn't quite able to settle another mystery: where the Camelback PUD got its nickname. Some folks say a prominent hill on the property looks like a camel's back; more recently, observers have described the PUD map (see illo) as looking like a camel. Well, maybe.

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Camelback PUD, Jonathan Coon, Alison Alter, Champion Tract 3

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