Help needed to fight rezoning

Much like most of Austin, Southwood has alot of development that is
rapidly transforming the original character and environment of the
neighborhood. Currently, a developer has a proposal with the city to change zoning
from SF-3 to SF-6, so that 19 condos can be built on 1.9 undeveloped
acres. Introducing a dense development like this means that our little pocket
neighborhood will be prone to the same radical transformations as have
been seen on the East Side, Rainey Street and South Lamar. More importantly there are MAJOR issues surrounding the road’s safety and the effects the development will have on flooding.

Site outlining our concerns:

A valid resident petition has been submitted to object to the rezoning, but we don’t know what next steps to take. The City of Austin Zoning & Planning is voting on approval, September 13th.
City staff has just recommended approval of the applicant’s proposal to
SF-6 without taking into consideration resident concerns/input.

Can you help? Right now, there are many residents who are concerned, and have many questions, but it seems like we are powerless.

If anyone has a real estate, engineering, or CAD background; would love your eyeballs on the alt plans the Developer is threatening the neighborhood with if we don’t support his bid for rezoning…

Aren’t the dark boxes leading to the street driveways? Looks that way to me.

Thanks for looking! I don’t think so as the scale is off, and they seem to be more of a spacing guide?

They really look like shared driveways to me since they all connect to one of the two streets pictured. And heritage trees can be removed. They just require a permit and mitigation (planting a replacement tree elsewhere, etc).

Ok, so from your reading of it, the developer has driveways run along the borders of the property and 5 going out onto Vinson Drive?

That would be my guess by looking at the picture also - that those are driveways from where they are placed.

Has the developer done anything to make you think that SF-3 plan is a threat of some kind? A lot of the times developers want to make something better than what’s allowed by right under current zoning (which mainly only allows large sometimes ugly homes or duplexes on large lots). They have the plans drawn up already because they need to know their options if the zoning they are asking for is denied. They may just be simply showing you those plans so you know the realistic options if the development is opposed since they don’t need any type of approval to do what they’re showing in those plans. Good developers would like to put in something that they could be proud of and improves the neighborhood over what they are allowed to do under current zoning. Based on the square footage of the site it does appear that they are allowed to build that number of duplexes on the lots. They can build 2 units for every 5750 sqft and 2 duplexes for every 7000 square feet, so if they can reshape their layout at all they might be able to put even more units in.

I guess the real question would be what would you and your neighbors prefer to see. Would you like to see the SF-6 zoned plan or the SF-3 zoned plan? If the SF-3 plans are accurate then one of those two are going to be built and your valid petition may force that to be the only option and you are making that decision to have the SF-3 plan built. Developers seem much more willing to listen to neighbor concerns if they aren’t threatened with valid petitions. Valid petitions simply make everyone dig in and when the development goes in and builds anyways, you might not get anything that you want because instead of working together you spent the time fighting them. I know if I was a developer and someone made a valid petition, I wouldn’t want to listen to what they had to say and would just do the base zoning allowed if the rezoning was denied. It’s simply the only option left.


Ok, thank you, it just seems the amount of impervious cover and logistics of accessibility seemed completely off to us…which is why having fresh eyes and engineer’s review is so important to us.
The tone of the Developer’s letter came across a bit bullying; it looks like the Developer is saying if neighbors don’t support the rezoning that they will pack the property with cheap, ugly rentals for absentee landlords OR McMansions. Honestly, this property was never publicly for sale so we feel a bit blindsided. Its in such a weird spot, so no one thought that it would ever be developed. Only blocks away, the city has bought houses due to flooding and has recommendations to buy even more. The ideal outcome is for someone to build mindfully, and not create such a rift in the neighborhood and the environment.

It looks like in the drawing they’ve left a large piece of land undeveloped on the top right, which is above the large driveway/road that they’d build in order for people to be able to access all of their smaller driveways coming off of those houses on the right side. I’m not sure why they left that undeveloped. It looks to me like they might be able to put in some more houses there by right also. I doubt it has anything to do with impervious cover since it looks like they’d be within their limits under SF-3 without it.

The impervious cover is going to be added to that site and there’s nothing that can be done about that. The only thing that can be done is determine how that impervious cover is used either with the SF-6 or SF-3 plan. I couldn’t find a drawing that shows what they propose under SF-6. Do you have a link on the site? Personally, I prefer townhouses over duplexes and find them much more aesthetically appealing. If this property were around me, I’d be advocating for the property to be zoned SF-6 so townhouses could get built because the current duplex options under SF-3 really aren’t that great.

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I just found the image here ( along with the developer’s letter. Honestly, the developer’s letter seems honest and I don’t feel like it’s threatening in any way. Everything that they say seems to describe the two options accurately. In my option the SF-6 site plan seems to be superior in almost every way to what they would be forced to build otherwise. And they are probably right that duplexes would be investment rentals, less appealing, provide less of a tax base, and be closer to neighboring houses. They’ll probably make about the same amount of money with either option, but probably want to build something better. If I was a developer, I’d rather not build that and instead build something better with the SF-6 site plan.

I’d say that the Developer’s letter didn’t seem too condescending or off-putting to me. It was mostly worded as a business correspondence - yeah, it wasn’t warm, but I think it plainly covered the options. I get that the correspondence can come off as discordant when reading through the ones & zeros on a computer screen, but I think the bulk of that interpretation is just a difference in communication styles. Plus trying to describe building codes and city zoning is a pretty dry topic.

I find it most helpful to assume the best in people until they definitively prove me wrong. I do see them trying to extend an olive branch in asking for a personal meeting and any further suggestions from the n’hood - I’d say take them up on the offer and show up with an open mind.

“I have listened to the neighbors and incorporated many of their requests, such as adding a sidewalk and not gating the community. Should there be other desires or compromises that you can think of, I am open to suggestions as I would very much like to have your support. I am reaching out to your neighbor to have another meeting before the next Planning Commission. Should I be able to convince you that the proposed Villas at Vinson Oak are a better alternative to what current zoning will yield, I ask you to sign the attached letter.”

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Yes, that top portion is property owned by the railroad and is not affiliated with the property. The COA neighborhood advisor does think the scale is off/unfeasible, but also warned that neither of the site plans are binding.

What is a COA Neighborhood Advisor? I’ve never heard of that position.

I think it’s the Neighborhood Assistance Center. They are paid city staff that help people organize against new housing or remodels/additions and also helps people file code enforcement complaints against their neighbors.

@southwoodatx, my experience has been that staff is conscientious in looking at the pro’s and con’s of a situation, but you need to understand that so many / most projects are opposed without reasonable cause (led by the “no change” mantra) that it dilutes the legitimacy of the smaller number that have legitimate concerns - and you certainly have a problem.

Clearly we do not want occupied homes being flooded out because they were built the wrong way in the wrong place - if that means having these areas revert back to open space (as they have been for most of history) then it puts that much more pressure on creating density up the hill, like is proposed here - which, if you look at history, is largely where the early settlers built (or rebuilt).

That may just leave abandoning or buyouts of those flood plain properties for now, or rebuilding on “stilts” (if not a cost effective option today, it may be in the future as land prices escalate), or improving the drainage, which is very expensive so a City trade-off vs. doing buyouts.

I have seen a raging river going down First Street, am sympathetic to you and your neighbors because wet moldy is not a pleasant or healthy environment, but there are hundreds of properties uphill that contribute to the run off leading to a pre-existing condition. Penalizing one property owner because they did not choose to develop until now does not seem fair either, think of how much runoff you were spared by all the years it was left vacant, my guess is that over any reasonable time horizon they can be viewed as the “good guys” under that lens.

There is a large complex planned downtown with zero parking. For this one they could have easements to share access and parking space, or solve it a number of other ways, so I encourage you to not get lulled into a sense that it can not be developed. At current values gravity has shifted, and if someone can avoid an hour commute, they may do without some design features that in the past were commonplace.

Thats an interesting perspective @Phil_Wiley.
My perspective, is that the people who already live here, and pay into the tax base, should have the right to keep the zoning in line with the rest of the neighborhood. The city and neighbors over years of discussion designated SF-3 as the best fit (published in the Imagine Austin South Austin Neighborhood Plan). Neighbors just want the original zoning regulation to hold.
Community needs should take priority over one person’s profit…especially if it means that in the long run it will be the tax payers who will have to pay for the problems of development that does not take into account the environment or safety of residents.

I would say that the community need is to provide more housing during a housing shortage and we should put the needs of the city above the needs of an individual neighbor or neighborhood.

I would think that your community needs would be to provide opportunity for good development. I don’t know if sticking simply to a strict definition of zoning is the only way to get to a common ground on this matter.

So lets take this opportunity to define “good development”

It seems like your concerns listed in the original post are around road safety and flood mitigation, but what do you want to add to your neighborhood with this development? - because new housing is coming to that lot whether or not the zoning is changed. The developer has a right to build since they own it.

If the developer can prove to you that traffic and drainage are issues they’ve addressed in their plan, what would you like to see offered as a part of these new houses, or what opportunities would you like these houses offer to the greater community?

I’ll note though, that traffic and drainage infrastructure are issues to be discerned at the City Planning level after a site plan had been decided upon. So in reality your concerns seem to be directed at the competency of professional Planners within the City.

If you are not familiar with this well written City document on zoning it might help ease some concerns.

SF3 allows for maximum building coverage of 40%, which is the same as SF6.
SF3 allows for maximum impervious coverage of 45% (page 16), SF6 is 55%.(page 21).

So the same amount of “building” is allowed, just more paved surface under SF6, which I believe is because condominiums with that many units are required to provided a certain amount of on-site parking.

I get it, being directly down hill from a denser condominium regime than your SF6 zoning would allow, which sits on property still shown as SF3 on the zoning map - things change then they change again - so don’t assume a zoning map, or what it means, is one of those things that don’t change.

Sounds like the reaction is one to change, as you are used to it being vacant; and surprise, as you thought it would stay that way. Imagine what the people who lived here 300 years ago would think of our Austin, and 300 years is a blink of an eye from a historical perspective!

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Thanks Phil, I am familiar with the zoning guide. It’s not a reaction to change, its a call for sensibility. Austin, even though it likes to stand apart, does tend to follow the older Texas viewpoint that there is plenty of land to develop. Unfortunately, that sort of sensibility leads to the laying down of cement without mindful planning, let alone upgrading infrastructure. The cost of upgrading the infrastructure falls directly at the City of Austin’s feet, and they have admitted that they are woefully behind.

From the recently released Fiscal Health Code prescription document released by the City Of Austin’s Land Development Commission.

Development fees are one-time charges to pay for all or a portion of the costs of off-site capital improvements necessitated by a new development. Many fees assessed today do not fully fund construction when the City is ready to make necessary system improvements in the future. The City must then fund any shortfall for construction….[I]nfrastructure systems such as transportation and stormwater/drainage do not have an impact fee at all.

…Another challenge involves development built prior to the adoption of watershed protection regulations for drainage or water quality… Increased runoff in areas upstream of undersized drainage systems and low-lying structures increases pressure on older conveyance systems and contributes to the flooding problems in many areas.

From May in the Austin American-Statesman
Report: Flood fixes would cost Austin $2 billion to $4 billion

The cost of addressing flooding — both from creeks that overtop their banks and from overwhelmed drainage infrastructure, especially in older parts of the city, that can’t keep up with storm water — is estimated at $2 billion to $4 billion, said the report, which also recommended the City Council review the whole city budget before making any spending decisions.

“We recognize that the cost of making the necessary improvements will require a significant expenditure by the City for the foreseeable future,” the report said. “We also recognize the real and ongoing costs in terms of quality of life, flood damage (existing and potential), and life-safety will continue to affect the city if Austin does not have the fortitude to effectively address flood mitigation.”

Austin, which is in “flash flood alley,” saw deadly flooding in October 2013 and 2015 that destroyed dozens of homes and upended hundreds of lives.

(edited to add links, which did not hyperlink)