Council approves Baudler Property rezoning request

Published 5:57 pm Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Stormwater utility rates to increase by $1.50 per month

The Austin City Council voted unanimously in favor of a rezoning request on the Baudler Property at 1400 Fourth St. NW, next to Hardees, during its regular meeting Monday evening.

Under the request, the property was split into two parcels, dubbed Parcel A and Parcel B. The property is currently zoned as single-family residential (R-1); it was requested that Parcel A be rezoned to multi-family/office (R-O) and Parcel B be rezoned as community business (B-2).

Scooter’s Coffee is looking to build a drive-thru location on Parcel B that would be approximately 600 square-feet and open from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Scooter’s spokesman Robb Steffes said the high traffic of the area makes it an ideal location, noting that Scooter’s is hoping to begin construction during the second or third quarter of 2022.

It was suggested that Parcel A could be used for a small office building and possibly townhomes/condos.

During the Oct. 12 Austin Planning Commission meeting, 16 residents from 10 nearby properties came out in objection to the rezoning, stating that increased traffic flow on Fourth Street Northwest could impact access to their homes, and expressing concerns about a development lowering their property values. The Planning Commission voted 8-0 to recommend the council reject both rezoning requests, citing traffic and its possible effects on the health and wellbeing of the surrounding residences as their reason.

Mayor Steve King and several council members expressed surprise at the Planning Commission’s vote.

“We’ve been at this site for 22 years trying to develop it and I don’t think there will ever be a single-family type residence,” King said. “This seems like a piece of property that is fit for this kind of redevelopment for our city.”

King also said the city stands to gain more from development on the site.

“As we look to build our tax base and have more people sharing in that pool, this would certainly be an upgrade when you have some residential and some business properties paying into that pool,” he said.

“If we’re looking at building the tax base and trying to be a progressive council, we need to look at this from the big picture and what’s good for the whole city,” said Councilman Jeff Austin (At-Large). “This does increase the tax base; it puts property value there that is not there. If the neighbors don’t want it there, maybe they should step up and buy the property, maintain it and do with it what they see fit.”

Austin also noted that previous proposals for the site have all been commercial, including a 2018 proposal for a Gold Cross Ambulance facility. All of those proposals had been rejected by the Planning Commission and the council based on neighborhood reaction.

“I think what we’re doing is severely strapping this property owner in what he can do with his house,” Austin said. “Housing is highly in demand, and if someone wanted to build houses, and if this was a desirable lot for housing, I think this property would have been sold by now.”

Austin added that a coffee shop would be better for nearby property values than the dilapidated house that currently sits on the lot.

Councilman Mike Postma (Second Ward) said the commissioners he spoke to were mainly concerned about traffic flow, but did not necessarily object to the development as a whole.

“None of them talked to me about thinking this was an unreasonable thing to put on this location when you’re talking about a major arterial street in Austin with a fast food restaurant that is going to abut up to it,” he said. “I don’t think anybody thought that a small coffee kiosk and some office buildings or condos would be inappropriate for that space.”

Postma and Councilman Jason Baskin (Second Ward) both expressed concern about traffic flow in the area and said they wanted to see if there were ways the city could address it.

“I think the traffic concern is 100% legitimate,” Baskin said. “Fourth Street is designed to be an arterial street and I think we need to figure out what our fix to that is.”

Councilwoman Joyce Poshusta said she would prefer a sit-in coffee shop versus a drive-thru so there was not as much in-and-out traffic and expressed concerns for pedestrians in the area. She said she felt the new Fourth Street bridge could be a possible solution to address the traffic issue.

“If the situation were to remain as is, I would be against it,” she said. “But I think that with our new bridge coming and the flow that that’s going to create, I think the traffic in that area is going to be better.”

Other council members argued that developing a business on the site was best for the city.

“In Austin, we’re looking for more business,” said Councilman Oballa Oballa (First Ward), who noted that he understood the concerns of the neighbors and agreed with the 2018 decision to not locate the Gold Cross Ambulance center at the location. “When it comes to coffee, having that area available for more business to come in I think would be a great thing for the city.”

“It’s never going to be developed residential,” said Councilman Paul Fischer (Third Ward). “It’s been sitting this way for many years and there’s been no action.”

Baskin said the traffic flow makes the area more attractive for commercial and less desirable for residential.

“I don’t think the choice we have as a council is residential versus commercial, but a vacant property versus a developed property,” he said.

The council unanimously approved a monthly increase in stormwater utility rates from $4 to $5.50 on residential properties and $24 to $33 per acre on commercial properties during the meeting. The increase will be used to address:

• Unfunded mandates;

• Increasing reconstruction needs;

• Cedar River Watershed District regulations;

• Projects identified in the 5-year Capital Improvement Plan; and

• Stormwater program management.

The council also approved an advanced contract for the purchase of a fire apparatus in 2022. The agreement comes at the recommendation of the Austin Fire Department’s apparatus group, which is looking to replace Unit 301, the department’s “rescue” style apparatus.

The council voted in favor of a parking variance for the proposed Mill on Main apartment complex to be built at the site of the old YMCA. The variance allows for a 153-space lot to be built for the 92-unit project. A height variance to allow the building to be higher than three stories was also approved.