Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lost Creek Neighborhood Character (video)

In a previous post I described the CodeNEXT character in a box exercise and the photographs we took of Lost Creek. To see a video (11 minutes) of those photographs, click here.

Perhaps this will remind you of things you'd like not to lose as a result of rezoning the Marshall Tract. And, if you think of any more assets, constraints or opportunities for improvement, let me know and I'll try to add them version 2 of this video.

Zoning Change Review Process

Declaimer: This guide is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal regulation. Consult the Land Development Code for specific regulations.

This disclaimer is on the front of City of Austin Neighborhood Planning Guide to Zoning, June 2014. As this was the source I used to create this summary, it's only fair that I pass in on through my derivative work. In addition to the Guide to Zoning, I've used our collective experience (at least what's been shared with me) on the current rezoning effort,  my 34 years of living in Lost Creek and working on many similar efforts, and discussions with others more knowledgeable in the field than me. Things that are parenthesis are quotes directly from the guide.

My purpose in writing this is to make you aware of when, where and how you can get involved with this project and help to steer its outcome in a direction you want. The keys are knowledge and action, but action at the right time on the right issues to the right people in the right form.

Cousins Properties is proposing the change the zoning of the Marshall Tract from SF-2 to a PUD so that they can place two office towers (5 and 7 stories) totaling 370,000 square feet, a parking garage, and a senior living center, and/or an Austin fire department firehouse. Cousins would sell part of the land for either/and a senior living center and/or a fire department. Cousins is asking for a GO classification (with numerous modification) as the base zoning for the PUD.

SF-2: Single Family Residence-Standard Lot 
“Single Family Residence Standard Lot district is intended for a moderate density single-family
residential use on a lot that is a minimum of 5,750 square feet. An SF-2 district designation may
be applied to a use in an existing single-family neighborhood that has moderate sized lots or to
new development of single-family housing on lots that are 5,750 square feet or more.”

PUD: Planned Unit Development
“Planned Unit Development district is intended for a large or complex single or multi-use
development that is planned as a single contiguous project and that is under unified control. The
purpose of a PUD district designation is to preserve the natural environment, encourage high
quality development and innovative design, and ensure adequate public facilities and services
for development within a PUD. A PUD district designation provides greater design flexibility
by permitting modifications of site development regulations. Development under the site
development regulations applicable to a PUD must be superior to the development that would
occur under conventional zoning and subdivision regulations. A PUD district must include at
least 10 acres of land, unless the property is characterized by special circumstances, including
unique topographic constraints. The Land Use Plan establishing uses and site development regulations must be approved by City Council.”

GO: General Office
“General Office district is the designation for offices and selected commercial uses predominantly
serving community or citywide needs, such as medical or professional offices.”

The general review process is outlined in the graphic below obtained from The Guide. Cousins proposed  PUD has an additional step it must go through called a Development Assessment and a notification to City Council of its intent to seek a PUD classification for the property.

StepNameDescriptionParties InvolvedOutcome
0Development Assessment
Among other things, Cousins must prove in their documentation that the development under the site
development regulations applicable to a PUD must be superior to the development that would occur under conventional zoning and subdivision regulations.

Among other things, staff has to agree that the PUD is justified.

Interested parties can argue that the PUD is unjustified, unnecessary and potentially harmful to the neighborhood and the city.
StaffNotice to City Council of intent to create a PUD
1Application SubmittalThe request for rezoning is prepared by Cousins and submitted for approval.

Staff assigns a case number.
StaffAcceptance of rezoning request
2Notice of FilingStaff sends notices to interested parties and posts notices on the property.

Interested parties can send letters (e-mails) to staff and commissioners with approval/disapproval, reasons and requests for involvement of other city departments or outside organizations

Staff involves other city departments as necessary

Staff assigns date for Commissions' review.
StaffNotices sent and posted
3Staff RecommendationStaff completes their research and writes their recommendation to the CommissionsStaffRecommendation
4Notice of Public HearingStaff sends notice of public hearing to interested parties 11 days prior to the meeting.StaffNotices sent and posted
5Planning Commission/ Zoning and Plating CommissionStaff makes recommendation to Commissions

Interested parties have a chance to speak at hearing
Makes a recommendation to City Council
6Notice of Public Hearing for City CouncilNotice sent to interested parties16 days prior to City Council Meeting

Interest parties can write(e-mail) city council of their approval or disapproval of rezoning.

Neighbors within 200 feet of affected property can file a petition with city council opposing the rezoning
City Council
Notices sent and posted
7City Council Review (3 readings)Staff makes recommendation

Interested parties can speak
City Council
Approves or denies rezoning

Interested parties are specifically defined in The Guide: “property owners, registered community associations, and utility account holders within 500 feet of a property that is being rezoned”. The Austin Planning and Development Review web page broadens this definition some: “the applicant and his designated agent, as well as property owners, renters and utility account holders, registered neighborhood associations, community groups and environmental interest groups located within 500 feet of the zoning change.” The notice sent adds some additional information: “You may also wish to contact any neighborhood or environmental organizations that have expressed an interest in cases affecting your neighborhood.” I personally would add to this last list other City of Austin departments, state and county departments, and city,state and national organizations you think should review whats being proposed.

You will undoubtedly have noted that this interested party list ignores almost 1,200 homes in Lost Creek with probably over 3,000 residents. The power of this group lies in sheer numbers. The following statement is my opinion: Regardless of whether you belong to the LCNA or not, your individual letters and/or e-mails will carry a lot of weight.

When a case number has been assigned by the city, I will provide that to you. It's important to include this number in any correspondence you have with the city. I have also given you the contact information  for the city council and the two important commissions. You can use these e-mails to communicate to the set of council members or commissioners, but it might be more effective to contact them individually, personalizing your comments if possible. To that end, I have provided you with links to the individuals.

The Guide describes a way to challenge a rezoning effort:

“When a property owner requests a zoning change, nearby neighbors are considered to have a stake
in the zoning as well and have the opportunity to challenge the zoning request before City
Council. Doing so requires that City Council approve the zoning change by a super majority, which
is a vote of at least 6 out of 7 council members. Please note that petition rights do not apply to
interim-zoned property.

Steps involved in challenging a zoning request:

A. Work with the property owner or neighborhood to try to reach a compromise, or work through the neighborhood plan process.
B. Send a letter stating opposition to staff, Planning Commission, and City Council.
C. Appear at the public hearings at Planning Commission and City Council.
D. File a zoning petition.

What is a zoning petition?

A petition is one way a person may oppose a proposed rezoning. A petition may be filed (l) by a property owner opposed to a rezoning of his of her own property or (2) by property owners within 200 feet of the proposed change. In order for a petition by nearby property owners to be considered valid, property owners of 20% or more of the land within 200 feet of the proposed rezoning must sign the petition.”

For more information on this challenge process, click here.

This petition can be filed only after the completion of steps 0 through 5, and the matter is about to be sent to city council.

We have never done a formal neighborhood plan. As far as Austin is concerned, the Marshall Tract is in our neighborhood.  Going through a formal process involving everyone in the neighborhood might be a powerful tool to affect the outcome of this rezoning process.

Here's a list of the organizations and people that should be contacted during steps 0 through 5:

Planning and Development Review Department
505 Barton Springs Rd.
Austin, TX 78704
Phone: 512-978-4000

For information about the commissions associated with the Planning and Development Review Department (land use commissions), click here.

Planning Commission
To make and amend a master plan, recommend approval or disapproval of proposed zoning changes and control land subdivision within neighborhood planning areas and submit, annually, a list of recommended capital improvements. See Article X of the City Charter and Section 2-1-166 of the City Code for additional duties.


Dora Anguiano, Planning and Development Review Department, 512-974-2104
Jerry Rusthoven, Planning and Development Review Department, 512-974-3207
Greg Guernsey, Planning and Development Review Department, 512-974-7668

Meeting information (agenda, time, date)  is at this link.

Contact Dora Anguiano, Planning and Development Review - 5th Floor, One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road , (512) 974-2104. Deadline for comments is 4:30 pm, Wednesday the week prior to the Commission meeting. Only 1 copy needed.

Zoning and Platting Commission
Perform duties relating to land use and development, as prescribed by Title 25 (Land Development) of the City Code and other duties as assigned by the council. Section 2-1-188 of the City Code.

Pursuant to ordinances adopted by the Council, exercise control over platting and subdividing land within the corporate limits of the City and extraterritorial jurisdiction of the City to insure the consistency of and such plats or subdivision with the adopted comprehensive plan or element
or portion thereof. Recommend to the Council approval of disapproval of proposed zoning changes;


Dora Anguiano, Planning and Development Review Department, 512-974-2104
Jerry Rusthoven, Planning and Development Review Department, 512-974-3207
Greg Guernsey, Planning and Development Review Department, 512-974-7668

Meeting information (agenda, time, date)  is at this link.

Contact Dora Anguiano, Planning and Development Review - 5th Floor, One Texas Center, 505 Barton Springs Road , (512) 974-2104. Deadline for comments is 4:30 pm, Wednesday the week prior to the Commission meeting. Only 1 copy needed.

City Council
Physical Address:
301 W. Second St.
Austin, TX 78701

Mailing Address:
P. O. Box 1088
Austin, TX 78767

Phone: 512-974-2250
Fax: 512-974-2337



Speaking at City Council Meetings (from the City Council Web Site)
“Citizens may speak on most agenda items by completing an electronic registration in person on the kiosks located in the lobby of City Hall. Citizens can sign up at the kiosks after 12:00 noon on the Monday prior to the council meeting. You can speak on several items; however, citizens may not speak on briefings, executive sessions or on items where the public hearing has been closed.

Donating Time

You may also donate your time to another speaker if:

  • You were present when the speaker began to address council
  • You can specify the name of the speaker

A speaker may receive donated time from a maximum of four people present and may speak for a maximum of 15 minutes. The council may limit the number of speakers or the length of testimony in compliance with state law.

Consent Agenda Items

The council may adopt items without a separate vote on each item as the consent agenda. You may register to speak on consent agenda items.

You may speak one time, for up to three minutes on the consent agenda as a whole, regardless of the number of items for which you have signed up to speak.

You may not participate in removing more than three items from the consent agenda during a council meeting.”

Friday, September 26, 2014

Could planned project set off MoPac development boom?

Neighbors say dense project with proposed towers doesn't fit with area, could worsen traffic problems.

By Lori Hawkins and Shonda Novak - American-Statesman Staff

Two towers that would be among the tallest buildings outside of downtown Austin are being proposed as part of project that envisions bringing 1.6 million square feet of development to MoPac Boulevard and Spicewood Springs Road.

Some area residents oppose the project, which they say could set a precedent for other tall buildings — both along MoPac and elsewhere throughout the city — that would encroach on surrounding neighborhoods.

The developer behind the project is Dallas-based Spire Realty Group LP. Spire’s project is one of several office and residential developments planned or under construction along Spicewood Springs Road.

Real estate experts say the proposed development could set off a wave of development along MoPac.

Spire’s site is a 31-acre tract that now houses Austin Oaks, an office complex with 12 buildings of two to three stories each and totaling 450,000 square feet. Spire is seeking a zoning change that would allow it to construct buildings of three to five stories on the parts of the site closest to residential areas, and, on the parts closer to MoPac, two office buildings that would tower 17 stories each. Height is currently limited to 60 feet on the site.
To read more click here. Fee required if not a subscriber.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Austin Oaks Office Complex

Jim Duncan's presentation to the CodeNEXT Advisory Board on September 23, 2014.

This has an overview pertinent to the PUD proposed for the Marshall Tract.

Austin Oaks Office Complex

Hey Austin, No More PUDS

Local blog started to oppose PUDs.

Austin Oaks has no place in established neighborhoods

John Duncan, Austin American Statesman, September 24, 2014

"To follow the plan or not to follow the plan, that is the question.

Several of our local neighborhoods are again under siege by an out-of-town real estate speculator who looks at Austin more as a commodity than a community. This time the neighborhoods are Northwest Hills, Westover Hills, Allandale and North Shoal Creek, and the proposed project is the Austin Oaks PUD.

   The PUD applicant wants to convert an idyllic 40-year-old low-rise, low-density, tree-covered neighborhood office park into a high-rise, high-density regional commercial center that would feature the tallest buildings between the UT Tower and Waco and dump 20,000 new vehicle trips onto eight already failing nearby intersections. Such a proposed project clearly does not belong in an established Austin neighborhood. It belongs downtown or at the Domain.

   The proposed project went before our City Council in late June for a pre-hearing and, while Council Members Kathie Tovo and Laura Morrison indicated considerable concern, surprisingly no staff or council member noted that it was in direct conflict with Imagine Austin, our new comprehensive plan (which clearly designates the property as a low-intensity neighborhood center and not a high-intensity regional center.) Nor did anyone note that its approval would be an obvious violation of Article X of our City Charter, which mandates that all new development be in compliance with our adopted plan. Adding insult to injury, everyone seemed oblivious to the fact that approval of the project would also be a blatant affront to the 18,000 Austinites who just spent three years and $4 million laboring over Imagine Austin.

   As various neighborhoods gear up to oppose the Austin Oaks PUD, I caution them not to get caught up in the Austin “Zoning Game,” which can best be described in three phases. First is the application phase, where developers almost always ask for twice what they really want so that their allies in City Hall can look good by cutting the request in half.

   Second is the misdirection phase, where the developer cleverly diverts discussion about the proposed project, again with a little help from his council allies, from the most important and relevant issues of use, density and height, to the less important and irrelevant site-planning issues, such as curb cuts, sidewalks and bikeways.

   And third and finally is the barter phase, where the developer offers a lot of nice-sounding amenities like two-star (out of five) buildings, street improvements and affordable housing contributions in exchange for the rezoning. In the end, everything is designed to make the public feel like the proposed project is a “must have” economic stimulus for the city.

   The bottom line is that no matter how great the Austin Oaks PUD is made to sound as it goes through the approval process, it should not be approved in any form or fashion. It should be summarily rejected. When it comes to development approvals, Austin needs to stop playing “let’s make a deal” and start following proper planning and zoning principles.

   It is acknowledged that cities and their neighborhoods are organic and change over time. It is also acknowledged that existing properties like Austin Oaks will redevelop and change as well. As current homeowners who want to remain in their neighborhoods become empty nesters and then senior citizens, their housing and retailing needs also change. As new young families arrive, their needs are often quite different from previous residents.

   Imagine Austin acknowledges those changes and provides guidance for how neighborhoods and neighborhood centers can meet those needs — and Austin Oaks is well-positioned to help in those efforts. It just needs to be done within the framework of good planning and reasonable and compatible zoning. Current residents and businesses in all four of the affected neighborhoods are “entitled” to nothing less."


Lost Creek Neighborhood Character

These photographs were taken as part of Austin's CodeNEXT project in an exercise called Community Character in a Box. This material might be useful in addressing the incompatibility of the proposed Cousins development and the Lost Creek Neighborhood.


Participation in the Development Review Process

With respect to Cousins proposed development of the Marshall Tract, there are five classes of citizens in Lost Creek:

  • Those that live within 200 feet of the Marshall Tract
  • Those that live within 500 feet of the Marshall Tract
  • Those that belong to the LCNA and attend the meetings
  • Those who belong to LCNA but do not attend the meetings
  • Those that do not belong to LCNA

And in some of these classes their a distinction between being a property owner and a tenant who pays utility bills, and possibly whether they are a citizen of Austin. And, often in communication with LCNA, only people with valid e-mail address get notifications. LCNA information about the project is available to LCNA members on their website.The city sends notices by mail only to people living within 500 feet of the property and civic environmental organization with interests in the property.

Outside of the neighborhood there are others who can have a voice including other neighborhoods, and civic and environmental organizations with an interest in the property.

Each has specific rights and responsibilities. All should participate in fact based discussions and make up their own minds about the Cousins proposed development of the Marshall Tract. And everyone should voice their opinions and have access to the mechanism to express that voice.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Application of Zoning Heights to Land Contour

Most diagrams that I've seen depicting zoning heights and setbacks are shown on flat land. The Marshall Tract is far from flat. It has a pretty interesting contour. I know that somehow the city accounts for this be applying some averaging technique, but I was curious to see what the heights and setback would look like for various types of zoning, and assuming that the heights are measured from the elevation of Quaker Ridge. What I got is shown below.

GO is General Office, the base zoning planned by Cousins for the PUD (with lots of variances). The East Riverside Corridor is an example of how Austin handled heights and setbacks for better compatibility. The distance scale goes from zero at Quaker Ridge to 2000 at Loop 360 (approximately).

I don't know how Austin will handle the heights and setbacks for the Marshall Tract. But, it should be a strong discussion point for us, after we see what staff recommends.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Some Additional Thoughts on Compatibility

A community is formed whenever the neighborhood shares some set of values. It's a vital community if it contains diversity of knowledge. With shared values, communication is open and the members learn from each other's diversity. New members join the community if they share some of the community’s values. The physical characteristics of the community's neighborhood comes to reflect its shared values. A new development that intrudes on the values of the community is rejected by the community, and if it is allowed by the City because of political alliances or the prospect of tax income, it can severely damage the quality of life within the community.

A major issue with  compatibility is “compatibility with what?” As an example, consider the Loop 360 corridor. Every housing or office development is considered in only an incremental way, not in a “global” way. As a result, Loop 360 traffic continues to grow way beyond the capacity of the road because each development meets the “local” code.

Tine frame is another compatibility issue. Developments must be considered with respect to the past, present and future.

Compatibility with  the environment is also an important issue, as is compatibility with wildlife.

Compatibility has to be defined in a much broader, comprehensive way.

Neighborhood Character and Compatibility

CodeNEXT is an ambitious project to rewrite the land use code for Austin. The present code is the result of years of incremental changes. It is difficult to access and understand. Land developers and owners, as well as citizens are all unhappy with the existing code. Land developers and owners think that the code is too difficult to apply taking too long, being too expensive, and being too restrictive. Citizens think that the code doesn't do enough to protect neighborhood and does not employ a democratic process.

There are two concepts in CodeNEXT that would apply to the rezoning of the Marshall Tract – the concept of neighborhood character and the concept of compatibility.

“Every neighborhood in Austin has a distinct character worth preserving and building upon. The diversity of lifestyles and uniqueness of our living environments has given our city its personality and feel. The new Code will put a framework in place to better protect, enhance, and ensure the long-term stability and appeal of our neighborhoods.

A revised land development code could:
  • Provide a document that is more accessible and easier to understand for all users.
  • Provide more effective zoning tools to address specific issues.
  • Help define what we can build near or within neighborhoods.
  • Make neighborhood plans and visions are easier to access and understand.
  • Ensure that new buildings will make good neighbors with existing ones – in terms of their size, character and design, and allowed uses.
  • Reinforce the mix of creative small businesses that prosper in Austin’s neighborhoods, integral to defining their character.”

Compatible is defined as (in Dictionary.com):

  • capable of existing or living together in harmony
  • able to exist together with something else
  • consistent; congruous (often followed by with)

According to the CodeNEXT team, compatibility is not defined in the present land use code. Their definition is:

“A development, building, and/or land use that is designed to be able to exist or occur without conflict with its surroundings – in terms of its uses, scale, height, massing and location on its site.”

The CodeNEXT team also points out that that “there is a missing middle”, for example between residential and high rise office buildings, in the existing code. This transition zone is different than a buffer.

The CodeNEXT team also pointed out that one size does not fit all. The code for compatibility must consider the context. The example they illustrate in the drawing is an urban, walkable context. Lost Creek is a suburban, drivable context.

The character of Lost Creek is incompatible with the character of the Cousins proposed development. The existing plans by Cousins does not provide a transition from the high rise office buildings to an SF2 residential setting.

Leaving the Marshall Tract zoned SF2 would be compatible with the existing Lost Creek neighborhood, and allow the developer to build in a transition zone between the new residential area and the existing office buildings, and park land.

Here's an overview of the whole CodeNEXT project.

Friday, September 19, 2014

The Character of Lost Creek

Lost Creek Blvd & South Capital of Texas Highway
Neighborhood Scout

"Lost Creek Blvd / S Capital Of Texas Hwy median real estate price is $504,402, which is more expensive than 98.4% of the neighborhoods in Texas and 92.3% of the neighborhoods in the U.S.

The average rental price in Lost Creek Blvd / S Capital Of Texas Hwy is currently unreported, based on NeighborhoodScout's exclusive analysis.

Lost Creek Blvd / S Capital Of Texas Hwy is a suburban neighborhood (based on population density) located in Austin, Texas.

Lost Creek Blvd / S Capital Of Texas Hwy real estate is primarily made up of medium sized (three or four bedroom) to large (four, five or more bedroom) single-family homes and townhomes. Most of the residential real estate is owner occupied. Many of the residences in the Lost Creek Blvd / S Capital Of Texas Hwy neighborhood are established but not old, having been built between 1970 and 1999. A number of residences were also built between 2000 and the present.

In Lost Creek Blvd / S Capital Of Texas Hwy, the current vacancy rate is 0.7%, which is a lower rate of vacancies than 95.7% of all neighborhoods in the U.S. This means that the housing supply in Lost Creek Blvd / S Capital Of Texas Hwy is very tight compared to the demand for property here."

Notable & Unique Characteristics
"The way a neighborhood looks and feels when you walk or drive around it, from its setting, its buildings, and its flavor, can make all the difference. This neighborhood has some really cool things about the way it looks and feels as revealed by NeighborhoodScout's exclusive research. This might include anything from the housing stock to the types of households living here to how people get around."

"The rate of college educated adults in the Lost Creek Blvd / S Capital Of Texas Hwy neighborhood is a unique characteristic of the neighborhood. 87.5% of adults here have received at least a 4-year bachelor's degree, compared to the average neighborhood in America, which has 22.6% of the adults with a bachelor's degree. The rate here is higher than NeighborhoodScout found in 99.8% of all U.S. neighborhoods.

In addition, priests and therapists would like to think they know the secrets to a truly successful marriage, but according to NeighborhoodScout's research, the folks of the Lost Creek Blvd / S Capital Of Texas Hwy neighborhood may actually hold the key. 74.9% of its residents are married, which is a higher percentage than is found in 99.5% of the neighborhoods in America.

Also, wealth makes most things in life easier, and a few things harder. If you are wealthy and enjoy keeping up with the Jones', this neighborhood will interest you. In fact, according to NeighborhoodScout's research, the Lost Creek Blvd / S Capital Of Texas Hwy neighborhood is wealthier than 99.2% of the neighborhoods in the United States. Residents here are truly in a unique situation even when compared to other Americans, based on the shear amount of wealth concentrated here. Even in times of economic downturn, residents of this neighborhood, as a group, suffered less and recovered more quickly. This is indeed a stand-out characteristic of this neighborhood.

Finally, according to NeighborhoodScout's exclusive analysis, Lost Creek Blvd / S Capital Of Texas Hwy is among the best neighborhoods for families in Texas. In fact, this neighborhood is more family-friendly than 98.4% of neighborhoods in the entire state of Texas. Its combination of top public schools, low crime rates, and owner-occupied single family homes gives this area the look and feel of a "Leave It to Beaver" episode. Many other families also live here, making it easy to socialize and develop a strong sense of community. In addition, the high number of college-educated parents influences the academic success of the local schools. Overall, you will find all of the amenities a family needs to thrive in the Lost Creek Blvd / S Capital Of Texas Hwy neighborhood. In addition to being an excellent choice for families with school-aged children, this neighborhood is also a very good choice for urban sophisticates and highly educated executives."

There is much more information about Lost Creek and adjacent neighborhoods in this report. Some can be accessed at no charge and others require the payment of a fee.

Office Buildings that Blend In

I always admired the way that the office buildings were developed on Loop 360 across from Lost Creek. They blended in with the trees and contours of the land. They are not higher than the trees and the dark glass helps.I just realized yesterday that those office buildings are in the City of West Lake Hills.

Zoning of Marshall Tract in Context of Other Loop 360 Properties

The City of Austin's Development Web Map ( a GIS) is a great tool to look at many aspects of a parcel of land. For this exercise, I chose to look at the zoning of land along Loop 360. Each tract of land is color coded as to its present zoning. It takes three images to see all of Loop 360. What I suspected, and confirmed, by these images is that the Marshall Tract is presently zoned compatible to all the other land (SF2) along the Hill Country Scenic Highway. No other residential area has office development intrusive to the neighborhood. The closest analogy is South Wild Basin Rd. There is a deep LO development between Loop 360 and the start of residential development in Rob Roy. But there is no intrusion into the residential development.

The maps are color coded. The most important ones for this exercise are:
  • Single Family - Large Lot (SF1): Medium Purple
  • Single Family - Standard Lot (SF2): Medium Brown
  • Family Residence: Light Brown
  • LO - Limited Office: Pale Purple
  • PUD - Planned Unit Development: Grey
  • I-RR - Interim Rural Residence: Deep Purple
Loop 360 North

Loop 360 Central
Loop 360 South

Another observation is that there are a lot of PUDs along Loop 360. That makes it very difficult to determine the degree of compatibility with neighboring property because each PUD has its own ordinance defining what the internal zoning actually is.

If you want to see the entire Loop 360, view the image below, or download the image by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Marshall Tract Zoning Profile Report

The picture below is the Zoning Profile Report for the Marshall Tract from the City of Austin. Following the link to the ordinance creating the zoning for the tract and its annexation into the city was signed in 2008. The Marshalls were happy with the zoning to single family residential (SF2) and the city planned the whole Las Cimas land annexation at that time. Someone must have know in 2008 that this zoning was appropriate for its location.

Here's the whole Las Cimas annexation. Note that the "Lost Creek Commercial Area" is clearly marked.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Developers Plan Loop 360 Office Buildings

By Katie Urbaszewski
Austin Community Newspapers Staff

Developers have begun the process of trying to build on the Marshall tract in Lost Creek.
The vacant, undeveloped 37-acre property is currently zoned for houses only, but now Atlanta-based Cousins Property Inc. is beginning the process of asking the city of Austin to rezone it. Developers said they are interested in building an office complex and possibly selling part of the land for an assisted living center or to the city of Austin for a fire station as part of the city’s annexation plan.

Cousins Property has filed a formal development assessment, the first step in the rezoning process. The developer is estimated to file site plans in October, and the Austin City Council is expected to vote on the rezoning and project early next year, city spokeswoman Sylvia Arzola said.

The land is currently owned by Dan Marshall, and Cousins has it under contract, said Tim Hendricks, Cousins’ senior vice president.

Read more by clicking link below:


Cousins - Trophy Assets and Opportunistic Investments

This speaks for itself.

Cousins Properties, 2013 Annual Report

"Our mission has been clear since the start of 2012—simple platform, trophy assets and opportunistic investments. In January 2012, our equity market capitalization was $665 million with 46% of Net Operating Income coming from urban trophy office buildings. Today, it’s over $2 billion with 85% of Net Operating Income coming from urban trophy office buildings. At year-end 2013, our total shareholder return was 25.6% on a one-year basis and 31.9% on a three-year basis. This compares to 6.6% and 21.0%, respectively, for the SNL US REIT Office Index. As in everything we undertake, the ultimate goal is to provide attractive total returns for our shareholders.

We have timed this cycle well, acquiring $1.6 billion of trophy assets in 2013 at an average discount of 57% to replacement cost. Our most notable move during the year was the acquisition of Crescent’s Texas portfolio in September. This transaction was accompanied by the successful issuance of 69 million common shares, enabling us to grow the company’s total market capitalization by 57% overnight, while adding 5.3 million square feet of Class A office assets in Houston and Fort Worth. In the first half of the year, we acquired Post Oak Central in Houston and 816 Congress in Austin. Our Texas presence now represents 52% of our total portfolio square footage and is exclusively located in the three major markets of Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, and Austin."

Larry L. Gellerstedt III
President and Chief Executive Officer

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Xeriscape Demonstration Garden

Xeriscaping is the art of creating water-conserving landscapes by efficient watering techniques and selecting plants that are appropriate to the natural environment. The term xeriscape is derived from the Greek word, Xeros, which means dry. Xeriscapes are not dry and dull! Well-designed xeriscapes are beautiful and functional.

The best xeriscapes use a fraction of the water needed by traditional lawn-dominated landscapes. Some xeric plants require little or no supplemental watering once they are established and xeriscapes require far less ongoing maintenance

In today's world of concerns about depreciating water resources, xeriscape is an ideal way to "live green." More than fifty percent of residential water used, in the western United States, is used to keep landscapes and lawns green. Xeriscape can reduce this by 60% or more.

With water demands and usage increasing rapidly, we need to find ways to use water more efficiently. Efficient water use means finding ways to have attractive, landscapes without excessive water use.

Xeriscaping will help beautify your home and increase its value - as much as 15%! Using plants and landscaping that is native to the area in which you live can conserve water, time, money and the landscape will retain its beauty during times of drought.

The first part of this proposal is factual. Water is a precious, scarce and declining resource. We use up to 60% of our residential water on watering our lawns and gardens. The second part of this proposal is opinion - that a xeriscape demonstration garden would help us in Lost Creek find ways to reduce our use of water, and that one should be part of the Marshall Tract development..

Here's an outline of the proposal:

  • What is xeriscaping?
  • Why do we need it?
  • What is a xeriscape demonstration gardne?
  • What are some examples?
  • What are the benefits of xeriscaping?
  • What is the Marshall Tract?
  • Why does Lost Creek need a park with a garden?
  • Why should the Marshall Tract not be developed other than into a park?
You can read the proposal here.

Property Tax Revenue

Estimated annual tax revenue from the development of the Marshall Tract is shown below:

  • Undeveloped - $106
  • Residential ($700,000 to $1,000,000 per house) - $1.2M to $1,7M
  • PUD - $3M
Of particular interest is the Eanes ISD revenue, because the residential option will add more children to the school district. A residential development will generate between $609K and $870K in tax revenues for Eanes ISD, the PUD will generate $1.5M.
According to the Eanes ISD budget for 2014 - 2015, the state will recapture 47% of Eanes ISD revenue (Robin Hood). In addition, the state will pay Eanes ISD $973 per student.

The net of this is that if the Marshall Tract residential development has as many children as the average household in Zip 78746, 2.3, the following results:
  • Eanes ISD budgets $8,260 per student after the recapture and additional state funding.
  • The Marshall Tract residential development will generate between $2,840 and $3,640 per student after recapture and additional state funding.
The Eanes ISD budget for 2014 - 2015 shows a deficit of $4.1M. The $1.5M from the PUD is going to look attractive.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Impact on Property Values

To obtain the impact of office development on houses and land adjacent to the Marshall Tract, I analyzed some houses (75) in Lost Creek that had three different kinds of backyard neighbors - other houses, office buildings, and green belt. I used the Travis County CAD system to examine the 2013 appraised value for the house and the land. I normalized them to the square feet of the house and the size of the land (acres). Houses with swimming pools were eliminated from the analysis.

The findings of this analysis were:

  • House appraisals were independent of location
  • Land appraisals depended on location
  • Land  with greenbelt behind it was appraised 13% higher than land with houses behind it.
  • Land with offices behind it was appraised 9% lower than land with houses behind it.

Comparison of Usage of Electricity

According to the EIA (Energy Information Administration), an average home in Texas consumes 1,168 kwh per month of electrical power. This means an average house consumes 14,016 kwh per year, and 74 homes would consume 1,037,184 kwh per year. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), an average office in Climate Zone 5 consumes 20 kwh per square foot per year. The two Cousins buildings (373,000 square feet) would consume 7,460,000 kwh per year. That's 7.2 times what residential development would consume. The senior living center would add more energy consumption. The EPA did not provide energy consumption of a senior living center, and I don't know how many square feet would be in the proposed building.

Please note that these are all based on average performance. Actual results could be different.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Water Usage Comparison

Based on water usage data for homes and offices in the Lost Creek MUD, the following comparison can be made between the Marshall Tract being used for single family residential, and the proposed PUD.
  • Single family homes (74): 10.4 million gallons per year
  • PUD (373,000 square feet of office space and a 100 room  senior living center): 11.8 million gallons per year
The PUD will consume 13% more water than if the land was used for single family homes. Over ten years, a residential development will save 14 million gallons of water.

See Water Usage for more information.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Austin's Zoning Principles (opinion)

The City of Austin has established twelve Zoning Principles as a guide to preserve the
compatibility of land uses. City Staff, stakeholders and property owners should use the
following principles to evaluate all zoning requests.

The following table summarizes my opinion on how these principles are being  used for each development.

If you'd like to provide your opinions, download the table, fill it out and send in back to me.

Zoning should be consistent with the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) or adopted neighborhood plan. (We have none of these so I answered using existing zoning)
Zoning should satisfy a public need and not constitute a grant of special privilege to an individual owner; the request should not result in spot zoning.
Granting a request for zoning should result in an equal treatment of similarly situated properties.
Granting the zoning should not in any way set an undesirable precedent for other properties in the neighborhood or within other areas of the city.
Zoning should allow for a reasonable use of the property.
Zoning should promote a transition between adjacent and nearby zoning districts, land uses, and development intensities.
Zoning should promote the policy of locating retail and more intensive zoning near the intersections of arterial roadways or at the intersections of arterials and major collectors.
The request should serve to protect and preserve places and areas of historical and cultural significance.
Zoning should promote clearly identified community goals such as creating employment opportunities or providing for affordable housing.
A change in conditions has occurred within the area indicating that there is a basis for changing the originally established zoning and/or development restrictions for the property.
The rezoning should be consistent with the policies adopted by the City Council or Planning Commission/Zoning and Platting Commission.
Zoning changes should promote compatibility with adjacent and nearby uses and should not result in detrimental impacts to the neighborhood character.
Yes 9
No 3
Yes 1
No 10
? 1

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Marshall PUD: Development Assessment Application

Analysis and Comments

The Development Assessment Application for the proposed Marshall PUD was filed by Drenner Group, a representative of the perspective purchasers of the Marshall Tract, ie Cousins, on August 15, 2014. This is the first step in the process to change the zoning of the Marshall Tract from SF2 to a PUD (1). The application was sent to Greg Guernsey, Director, City of Austin, Planning and Development Review Department, and member of the staff to the Planing Commission.

Amanda Swor, Senior Project Manager, Drenner Group, is the author of the application. She states in the third paragraph:

“The proposed PUD is not located within a neighborhood planning area. There are single family properties within 540 feet of the project, however, the properties are not located within the City of Austin zoning jurisdiction, and therefore do not trigger compatibility standards.”

Both the Marshall Tract as well as the Lost Creek neighborhood are in the Barton Creek Mall planning area. The Barton Creek Mall area does not have a FLUM (Future Land Use Map). However, the City of Austin has zoned the Marshall Tract SF2 which is compatible with the Lost Creek Neighborhood. The author is correct that the area is not one of the neighborhoods of the City within the Residential Design and Compatibility Standards ordinance. The Marshall Tract is within the City limits of Austin, and the Lost Creek Neighborhood is scheduled for annexation in two steps. The MUD will be  taken over by the city and the end of this year, and the neighborhood at the end of 2015. More than likely the project will be completed after the city has annexed the area. A Limited District has been approved and it will go into effect on the first of 2015. Lost Creek is now in Austin's ETJ.
Barton Creek Mall Planning Area
Barton Creek Mall Area FLUM

Barton Creek Mall Zoning

City of Austin Compatibility Standards

But, regardless of the technicalities, the proposed development is not compatible with the Lost Creek neighborhood, nor is it compatible with  other office developments along Loop 360.

The fourth paragraph refers to an attached superiority chart that is not attached to my copy. It supposedly indicates that the PUD allows for a superior development of the property.

The author states the PUD seeks GO zoning for the base district and proceeds to indicate all the City Code modifications (what used to be called variances?) to the proposed PUD District:
  1. Maximum height 122 feet instead of 60 feet
  2. A maximum of 50 feet of cut instead of four feet of depth
  3. A maximum of 35 feet of fill instead of four feet.
  4. A maximum height of buildings of 120 feet more than 200 feet from Loop 360 instead of the Hill County Roadway ordinance of 40 feet.
  5. An assertion for the Hill Country Roadway ordinance that the area is in a moderate intensity zone.
  6. Instead of a Floor to Area (FAR) of 1:
    1. 0. 5 for a building on property with a slope gradient of 15% or less
    2. 0.25 for more than 15% but less than 25%
    3. 0.2 for more than 25% but less than 35%
    4. 0.1 for more than 35%
  7. Can construct a roadway or driveway with a gradient of greater than 35% instead of not greater than 15%
  8. Can construct a building or parking structure on a gradient of more than 35% instead of 25%
  9. May provide for water diversion of up to two acres instead of 1 acre.
The application does not mention the requirements of the Eanes or Barton watersheds. Nor, does it address the Golden Cheek warbler habitat on the land.

In the General PUD notes provided by 360 Professional Services, note 7 states that prior to the issuance of an occupancy permit, the drive to Las Cimas will be constructed. The notes do not state where construction equipment access will be allowed.

According to note 5, 10.4 acres of open space will be provided. This land does not appear to be within the boundaries of the PUD, but between the boundaries of the PUD and the property boundaries. It does not state how this land will be zoned.

The Land Use Plan submitted by 360 Professional Services Inc., indicate that the Marshall Tract will be divided into two regions – PUD and Open Land. The PUD will be divided into four areas:
  • Area 1 – 16.1 acres, office
  • Area 2 – 13.5 acres, office
  • Area 3 – 7.6 acres, civic/commercial
  • Area 4 – 0.1 acre, cemetery
There are 29 different types of civic uses permitted under the GO classification, and 15 commercial uses. Office is not a classification under GO. Different types of offices are listed under commercial uses.

The total of all the land areas and the open area equals 47.7 acres. The tract only has 37.4 acres.

There is no mention of where the water containment feature (2 acres) will be placed. Nor is there any mention of where AC equipment, garbage, lighting, etc will be placed. And, there is no mention of an environmental impact study which should be done on this environmentally and historically significant tract of land, nor its impact on mobility.

(1) See Austin's Neighborhood Planning Guide to Zoning for information on SF2, PUD and GO, as well as other useful information: https://www.austintexas.gov/sites/default/files/files/Planning/zoning_guide.pdf 

Another Photographic Visualization

Here's another photographic visualization. This one is from Wayne Whitney. He wrote this with  his image: " I made an attempt using different view angles with no claim of correct scaling. I also made the image editing very visible so there would question that it was an edited image."