Council rejects zoning request for 7th Ave. NW property; Will explore PUD option

Published 6:30 am Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Austin City Council unanimously rejected a request to rezone the property at 1500 Seventh Ave. NW from “R-2” multi-family residential to “B-2” commercial during its regular meeting Monday evening, opting instead to explore the option of a Planned Unit Development (PUD) designation.

The request was made by Curtis Sorenson, who recently made an agreement to purchase the property in the hopes of using it as a car lot. The Planning Commission reviewed an ordinance to amend the future land use plan and unanimously recommended denying the request during its Oct. 15 meeting.

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The council initially voted 5-2 in favor of the request during its meeting on Nov. 4. During that meeting, Sorenson told the council he had spoken to residents of the neighborhood and had only one person against it. He also stated that not many other businesses would work on the property, which was a car lot for many years. Glen Medgaarden, who currently owns the property under JLM Properties, urged the council to approve the zoning request during the meeting, while Glenn Thaisen, who owns property to the south and west, expressed opposition, saying he would be surrounded by car lots.

Councilman-at-Large Jeff Austin also expressed support on the grounds that he did not want to see the building remain empty, while Councilman Jason Baskin said he did not see the property becoming anything besides a car lot.

Councilwoman Laura Helle and Councilman Steve King cast the dissenting votes during the Nov. 4 meeting, saying that the council should follow the comprehensive plan and land use map and abide by the recommendation of the Planning Commission.

Because the vote to publish the amendment to the ordinance was not unanimous, it was tabled for the Nov. 18 meeting for a second reading.

Planning Commission member Jay Lutz addressed the council before Monday evening’s vote, calling on them to honor the comprehensive plan.

“That is meant for situations like this, to use as a guidance document to help us to do orderly, organized, sound planning for development and zoning,” he said. “If we’re going to disregard that, then it is not worth the paper it’s printed on.”

Lutz reminded the council that while a car lot is the intended use of the property, the vote was to change the zoning designation, not approve a business for the property.

“The reality is a used car lot has zero bearing on this issue,” he said. “You’re not making a decision on approving a car lot.”

He also noted that the “B-2” designation allows for multiple options listed under the “B-2” zoning district.

“There are over 14 different categories just for general use; there are another half-dozen for conditional uses,” he said. “What you’re voting on is giving this property owner a blank check to do any number of things on this property.”

Lutz added that the only reason it was a car lot was because it was grandfathered in when the zoning ordinances were put together.

Austin again expressed support for the request.

“I think we have an opportunity to develop some land, have it useful and not sitting empty,” he said. “A business has sat on that property for as long as I can remember, and I’ve lived here 58 years.”

Councilman Paul Fischer agreed, saying, “I think if you stay with residential, you’re going to have an empty building.”

Helle, on the other hand, expressed concern about what could go into the lot if the request was approved.

“If we choose it for business, it is a very wide definition,” she said, adding that she believed they should “rezone to something more restrictive than ‘B-2’ and more wide open than ‘R-2.’”

City Attorney Craig Byram reviewed rezoning alternatives with the council to find an option that would be more suitable to the property. Among the options was a PUD, which is specifically intended to provide flexibility and options for hard-to-develop parcels that do not specifically fit within the normal rules and requirements of the city’s zoning code.

Designating the property as PUD:

  • Follows general pattern of approval used for plats;
  • Allows for ongoing review and control;
  • Allows for specified uses with the specified development standards much like a Conditional Use Permit would provide; and
  • Would allow for limitation to only a car dealership.

The council opted to deny the request and send it back to the Planning Commission to review it as a PUD.

Despite his request being denied, Sorenson expressed his gratitude to the council for allowing him to pursue a second option.

“If the PUD is the route that you want to go, I would most definitely go for that,” he said. “We’re here for solutions.”