Planning Commission gives developer and neighbors more time to break the deadlock

Developers of a small mixed-use project in East Austin will need to continue discussing it with affected neighbors to resolve their differences.

The Planning Commission, after having tried and failed to break the “deadlock” between the developer and several neighbors, voted to postpone the zoning file to June 8 to give the parties more time to reach an agreement. Micah King, agent for the developer, said that while there have been many conversations since September 2020, they have stalled lately.

The project is planned for a one-third acre plot at 712 and 714 Pedernales Street and 2409 Coronado Street in the Govalle neighborhood. The developer is asking for mixed-use general commercial services (CS-MU) zoning from the current family residence zoning (SF-3) in order to build residential units – 10% of which will be affordable – atop a small restaurant. The site is currently occupied by three vacant single-family homes and a former auto repair shop.

As is often the case, the neighbors had concerns. Most concerned the types of uses and the appropriate amount of density that should be allowed outside major corridors – a main point of debate when rewriting the Land Use Planning Code.

The opening hours of the restaurant were one of the main complaints. Neighbor Hudson Baird wants the restaurant to close at 6 p.m., but King wants the restaurant to be able to serve dinner. Baird said late-night restaurant patrons would disturb families in neighboring residences and “create a whole different neighborhood character vibe.”

King said the developer hopes to attract a restaurant serving dishes from the Mexican state of Michoacán, reflecting the developer’s heritage. The project is only one property off East Seventh Street, a major commercial corridor with many restaurants.

Raul Alvarez of the Govalle / Johnston Terrace neighborhood plan contact team lamented allowing new off-corridor density in the area, a trend he said started with the 2003 Govalle neighborhood plan and has only increased since with subsequent development plans focused on public transport.

“Each time, there was more density and no benefit to the neighborhood,” Alvarez said. “We’ve included a lot of density in our (neighborhood) plan where we wanted it, and now everyone is asking to expand where the density can go.”

King argued that the project’s proximity to transit routes and cycling facilities is “a great reason to add this zoning and mixed-use designation.” A segment of the Eastlink Trail, which connects the Ann and Roy Butler walking and cycling path to the Mueller district with protected bike paths, will be built on Pedernales Street.

City planner Greg Anderson spoke in favor of the increased density and criticized the neighborhood plan. “This is another outdated and disconnected neighborhood map from March 2003, when our metro population barely exceeded 1 million and the median price of a home was around $ 150,000.”

Alvarez said he didn’t agree with everything Anderson said, calling his comments “myopic.”

“Please don’t dismiss the neighborhood plan, because it is the neighborhood vision as articulated by the neighborhood,” Alvarez said. “We must value participatory planning and participatory democracy.”

Alvarez also criticized the developer for purchasing the SF-3 property and then attempting to improve it. “It’s completely speculative,” he said. “They bought it hoping they could turn it into a commercial, and I don’t think we should be rewarding speculative behavior in our neighborhood.”

Unable to come up with a zoning recommendation that would resolve the dispute, the commissioners voted unanimously to postpone the case until June 8 in the hopes that the developer and neighbors would come to an agreement.

Even so, some Commissioners doubted the usefulness of a postponement.

“Is there any evidence that the neighborhood and the applicant are at this stage able or interested in reaching an agreement?” Asked Commissioner Joao Paulo Connolly. “Or is the postponement part of the philosophy that forever delaying is better?”

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