Letter to the Editor: City jumped the gun

Published 5:51 pm Tuesday, November 2, 2021

At their Oct. 18 meeting the Austin City Council approved the rezoning of the property at 1400 Fourth St. NW. After viewing the council meeting and reading the subsequent article and editorial in the Austin Daily Herald, and as a member of the City’s Planning Commission that voted unanimously against this rezoning, I felt I should respond to some of the misunderstanding and misinformation on this issue.

Comments made by the mayor and council made it seem like they were approving a coffee shop. They were not. What council approved was the rezoning of this property from R-1 Residential to B-2 Business. This property is now open to be developed into any of the many uses allowed under the B-2 Business District outlined in City Code (section 11.41). That may very well be a coffee shop for now. But in the future, it could be almost anything, and it’s the neighboring residents that will have to live with that.

Also, the argument was made that this property would never be developed as anything else if it wasn’t rezoned as B-2. There are other zoning options available that would have allowed for the development of this property and given the city more control in the future. One such option is a good fit for this property because it’s for developing larger properties with a mixture of uses, such as small retail, small office, and residential together on a single property. These uses would otherwise not be allowed to exist together under a single zoning designation. This zoning option requires the review and approval of a detailed development plan, and in the future if the owner wants to change anything in the development, they must update and resubmit the development plan. It would then again go through the approval process, which most importantly, would include an open public hearing where citizens would have the opportunity to be heard.

Finally, the mayor and several council members made the comment that they could not understand why the Planning Commission voted unanimously to deny this rezoning. I cannot speak for the rest of the Planning Commission, but I would suggest that perhaps we came to a different conclusion than the Council because our review process included an entire body of information that theirs did not. Our meeting included public comments from the neighboring residents directly affected by this rezoning. At the Council meeting these same residents were not allowed to speak. This was not the case under the previous mayor and council. We’ll never know if other zoning options would have come up had there been public comments and discussion allowed like in the past, but it’s safe to say that without the opportunity they didn’t have a chance to.

Obviously, this letter can’t change anything with the rezoning of this property. But maybe it can serve as an opportunity for me to ask the mayor and council to please reconsider their position and return to the practice of more open council meetings.

Jay Lutz

Austin, MN