Council to vote on rezoning ;br; of AW parking

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 15, 1999

Episode II of the A&W parking lot saga is scheduled for today’s Austin City Council meeting.

Monday, November 15, 1999

Episode II of the A&W parking lot saga is scheduled for today’s Austin City Council meeting.

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At issue is the rezoning of the nearly half an acre of property located south of the revamped intersection of 4th St. NW and 1st Drive NW and immediately north of the A&W and Point Ice Cream shop. The lots in question came into being as they are now as a result of the realignment of the two streets in 1998. The city of Austin currently owns the site and has requested the rezoning.

Episode I was Tuesday night, when the Austin Planning Commission voted unanimously to recommend the council rezone the property from multi-family residential (R-2) to neighborhood business (B-1). The findings of fact regarding the decision stated that the rezoning request was: 1) in compliance with the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which states that one of the goals is to improve the traffic situation along 4th St. NW; 2) that the rezoning will not have an adverse effect on surrounding properties; and 3) the rezoning request is compliant to Minn. State Statute providing a safer, more pleasant, and economical environmental environment.

The six members of the planning commission voted in favor of the resolution despite the objections of Robert Helmers, who questioned the legality of the rezoning, particularly in light of the fact that the adjacent business owner, Gregg Johnson of A&W Root Beer and The Point Ice Cream Store, had paid to have the portion of the lot immediately north of the property paved in the fall of 1998. Customers of the two businesses used the parking lot throughout the summer business season.

Johnson did not want to comment on either the rezoning or Helmers’ accusations.

Helmers, who owns the Kar Korner business at the corner of 8th Ave. and 14th St. NW, claimed to have been discriminated against by the city because he was denied a similar zoning request last December.

"The two rezoning requests aren’t the same," city zoning and planning administrator Craig Hoium said the day after the hearing. "First, they are two different sites with different surrounding land uses. Second, the zoning requests are completely different. A neighborhood business district (B-1) is compatible with surrounding residential. Mr. Helmers wanted a B-2 zoning. Third, the surrounding property owners would have been negatively affected by Mr. Helmers expansion while A&W’s neighbors didn’t turn out with the same fears."

In a position piece compiled by Helmers, he questions – without naming specific business – three cases prior to his where local businesses were granted a rezoning from residential to business or commercial. He goes on to ask what allows the A&W owners to use city-owned property for parking and to pave the lot in question without owning it.

"This wouldn’t have warranted any discussion if it weren’t for Mr. Helmers," City Engineer Jon Erichson said after the planning commission meeting. "The parking lot just makes a lot of sense basically … We didn’t object to their paving the lot because if they don’t end up owning it, for whatever reason, I guess it would just become a public parking lot. However, we don’t want the property to be honest."

Erichson explained that, according to city charter, when the city vacates a public right of way, the adjacent property owners have the rights to the property – once its value has been determined – if they want it.

Hoium added that, due to the realignment of the intersection north of the property to be rezoned, the on-street parking had been taken away, which would have created a hardship for the business owners because they would have lost customers because of the lack of parking.

"All [the legal steps that have to be taken] couldn’t get done in time for A&W to have parking done for their season," Hoium said. "This is the most logical and easy way for both the construction on 1st Drive to get done and the traffic situation improved, and for neighbors who might have had parking problems because A&W customers might have parked along the other side streets."

The council will vote on the rezoning request after a public hearing at today’s 5:30 p.m. meeting in the Council Chambers, which are located in the lower level of the Municipal Building at 500 4th Ave. NE.