West Austin Neighborhood Group

Preserving and Protecting West Austin

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    Why Not Have Spot Zoning for Restaurants ANYWHERE in the neighborhood?

    September 27th, 2019
    by admin

    Recently, there have been proposals by city planners and others to up-zone the transit corridors in our neighborhood so that we can have more restaurants and higher density housing options. You can read below about the efforts to insert restaurant zoning at the residential intersection of Windsor and Mopac, but in general terms, the city planner’s “CodeNEXT” zoning change efforts to increase our density and commercial zoning with is now being joined by private development proposals to add more intense mixed use zoning so that we can have multifamily zoning and restaurant zoning added throughout our neighborhood. And unless there is a big change of heart at City Council, the upcoming land development code changes will likely add “mixed use” zoning to any existing multifamily zoning in our neighborhood and along our major transit corridors – Exposition, Windsor, Westover, Enfield, and Lake Austin Boulevard. To that end, the “enlightened” thinkers of our Planning Commission seem inclined to up-zone broad swaths of our neighborhood and let the free market figure out how best to create more housing and commercial amenities.

    What could possibly go wrong? Hasn’t Houston’s excellent example of letting the market drive the zoning outcomes worked out great for them? Of course, the Big H is covered in concrete, floods all the time, and has commercial businesses butt-up against residential homes. But even so, wouldn’t you love to have a restaurant conveniently located next door to you? Think of the convenience of being able to walk to a meal, or opening your window to smell the savory flavors. Of course, if you add a restaurant by your house, there might be some teeny-tiny drawbacks, like having additional traffic on your street from all the happy restaurant customers, or parking congestion in front of your house where the customers end up parking when there is no space in the lot, or any behavior-related issues from serving alcohol at the restaurants, or dealing with commercial lighting during (and after) hours of operation, or having the garbage dumpster scents and sounds (from early morning garbage trucks), or safety concerns for your family if they venture out into the street with the additional traffic and parking congestion, or the compatibility issues of having a taller commercially zoned structure located next door to you. But hey, what about the savory smells?

    Alas, we’re not Houston. We’re Austin. And Austin has eschewed the “wild west” approach to allow “spot zoning” where anything can go anywhere, instead opting (as do most cities) to have a plan for our land use and zoning decisions which systematically attempts to minimize the adverse effects that land use/zoning changes have on society and environments while maximizing the benefits to the community. Having a plan is especially important for communities, like Austin, that are experiencing significant growth. Indeed, the growth pressure, coupled with increased awareness of environmental, economic, and social issues, has led the city to adopt land use/zoning plans to ensure that land use decisions take into account the needs of the communities, economy, and environment.

    To this end, our neighborhood adopted the Central West Austin Neighborhood Plan (ftp://ftp.ci.austin.tx.us/npzd/Austingo/cwa-combined-np.pdf) which provides a decision-making framework to guide city staff, the Planning Commission, City Council, developers, neighbors, and others on what kinds of land uses and zoning are encouraged or discouraged in a particular area. Newer neighbors may not realize this, but the Neighborhood Plan was actually developed with broad and extensive community input over many years. Initiated in June, 2007, the neighborhood planning process involved at least 883 participants for fifty (50) neighborhood plan meetings and additional hearings before the Planning Commission and City Council, culminating in over three years and hundreds of hours of meetings later with the September 2010 approval by City Council. We were told that “neighborhood planning is an opportunity for diverse interests to come together and develop a shared vision for their community.” We were told that the neighborhood plan would provide a “clear picture of the type of development they would like to see in the future” and “a framework for zoning and land use decisions.” So we engaged with the plan. For three-plus years of meetings. We participated in the process. We followed the rules. We have worked hard in this planning process to address our neighborhood concerns and plans for future growth, including specifically how and where to add density and commercial amenities while preserving the existing character and integrity of the single family neighborhoods by guarding against negative effects of development and preserving harmony among land uses.

    In our neighborhood plan, we strongly believe in the city’s adopted “zoning principles.”  First, we believe that zoning should be consistent with the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) in our adopted neighborhood plan.  Second, we believe that “spot zoning” should be avoided by ensuring that any zoning satisfies a public need and is not a grant of special privilege to an individual owner. We are also guided by the concern that granting a request for zoning should result in an equal treatment of similarly-situated properties, so a zoning should not be granted that sets an undesirable precedent for other properties in the neighborhood.

    Applying these principles, the West Austin Neighborhood Group, along with the Neighborhood Plan Contact Team, helped keep Maudie’s Tex-Mex Restaurant in our neighborhood by invoking the neighborhood plan’s guidance that neighborhood restaurant zoning belonged at the current Maudie’s site. On this point, the plan specifies a number of existing sites where neighborhood commercial is appropriate, and we prevented changes to the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) which could potentially alter the zoning at these sites.

    By the same token, these principles weigh against the insertion of new restaurant zoning at 2401 Winsted Lane. This is a purely residential area at the intersection of Windsor and Winsted (near MoPac), so there are speeding traffic concerns from MoPac cut-through traffic, inadequate sidewalks, already congested street parking, and existing multi-family and residential housing that will be negatively affected. Our community’s neighborhood plan specifies where restaurant zoning belongs and where it does not belong, and any departure from this plan would open the door to attempt to add restaurant zoning to other parts of our neighborhood. Accordingly, please contact the city planner (Heather Chaffin, ) to oppose the zoning change for 2401 Winsted Lane by referencing the zoning Case No. C14-2019-0049 in your email. In addition, please contact the city planner (Kathleen Fox, ) to oppose the future land use map change for 2401 Winsted Lane by referencing the NPA amendment Case No. NPA-2019-0027.02 in your email.

    Sure, we’d like more dining options, but it should be noted that we have a plan for where they belong. It should also be noted that we have a lot more dining options (15 and growing) on the west side of MoPac than in past years, with more coming in the new HEB at Lake Austin Blvd. Finally, the neighborhood has the opportunity to create locations for food truck operations, possibly at some of our neighborhood parks, including possibly Tarrytown/Triangle Park. However, in considering this possibility, we should consider the potential effects on nearby neighbors, much in the same way you’d want your neighbors to consider the impacts on you.

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