Planning Commission Supports VMU Zoning for 51st Street Property

Picture by Google Maps

Tuesday May 31st, 2022 by Jonathan Lee

On May 24, the Planning Commission approved vertical mixed-use (VMU) zoning for a parcel along East 51st Street where a developer plans to build up to 249 residential units.

The rezoning is for a 4-acre parcel at 5525 E. 51st St. near U.S. Highway 183. Ledgestone Development Group is applying to add a VMU designation to the site zoned Commercial Services-Mixed Use (CS-MU-CO-NP ), which is currently vacant.

With two neighbors speaking in favor (and none against), the case was mostly uncontroversial — save for the opposition of city workers to the rezoning.

Heather Chaffin, the case manager, said VMU, which allows dense buildings and offers reduced parking needs, doesn’t make sense in an area with little access to public transport.

“Development on this site is likely to be largely automotive driven,” Chaffin said, adding, “Under VMU the property could benefit from a 40% discount (parking), which is intended for areas where public transport public and other transportation options are available.” The nearest bus stop, she said, is a mile away.

Alice Glasco, representing the developer, argued that the bus stops are actually less than a mile away due to a pedestrian path that connects to East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where the buses run. Glasco also pointed to a recent VMU rezoning on Springdale Road which staff had recommended despite the lack of nearby bus service.

Without the rezoning, Glasco said only 217 units could be built and none would be affordable. With VMU, 10% of units must be affordable.

President Todd Shaw questioned the resolve of city employees. “I see it’s an Imagine Austin lane, and to me it’s very simple – lanes equal VMU…. Isn’t the vision that one day it would support more public transit? Isn’t that kind of a long-term goal with establishing these corridors? »

“There are things that are goals and things that are desired,” Chaffin said, “but when we look at this zoning case, I think we’ve focused more on existing improvements.”

“At some point it’s kind of like a chicken and an egg,” Commissioner Jeff Thompson said. He agreed with Shaw that VMU makes sense for the site and can even help bring transit service to the street.

Neighbors who came out in favor said that a VMU-style building, which would include retail on the ground floor, would be welcome in their neighborhood. “We are grateful that retail, which is one of our highest priorities, can exist because there are very few retail options in the area,” said Nadia Barbot of the Pecan Springs. -Springdale Hills Neighborhood Association.

The commission voted 8-0, with five members missing or absent, to recommend VMU zoning.

“I hope staff can also begin to weigh the value of housing in density bonus programs when making these decisions,” Commissioner Greg Anderson said.

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