Above: Latest design plans for West Park PUD, with medical offices on the left; retail, a movie theater and hotel on the right, and condos in the upper part of the illustration.
By Ann Fowler
On January 24, the city’s Planning Commission granted an indefinite postponement to the West Park PUD, a proposed 130-acre development south of the Austin Community College Pinnacle campus on U.S. 290 West in Oak Hill.
According to attorney John Joseph of Coats Rose, who represents Rudy Belton of Buffalo Equities, Ltd., owner of the property, the postponement will allow them to work out transportation issues “to address a phasing of the project to coincide with improvements to 290 West.”
Joseph told the Gazette they are working “to address where traffic comes from and where it goes once it leaves the project. We want to minimize the impact on neighborhoods and an infrastructure incapable of handling it at this time.”
He said West Park PUD is working with Travis County on park improvements in a nearby neighborhood: “We’re working on the logistics for doing the environmental improvements staff wanted on the Windmill Run Park.”
He added that they are making improvements in the city of Austin right-of-way adjacent to the property, such as fixing grass swales and installing ponds to help slow down potentially erosive water.
Joseph said he was disappointed that a proposal to work with ACC to build a roadway to bring connectivity to the area was rejected by the college. The Oak Hill Parkway, a road stretching from Highway 71 to U.S. 290 West across the West Park PUD and Pinnacle campus, was a prominent feature of the winning design of the Green Mobility Challenge—with sponsors that included the Texas Department of Transportation and the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority.
ACC Executive Vice President Ben Ferrell sent a letter to Paul Linehan, president of Land Strategies, Inc., saying the ACC Board of Trustees was not interested in such connectivity. The letter said in part, “there does not appear to be any significant benefit to the ACC District under the proposed plan, and the plan would appear to generate undesirable traffic flow through the campus, require the destruction of newly built parking on our campus, and could negatively impact the amount of impervious cover on our site.”
Joseph said, “It amazes me that the Austin Community College wouldn’t be interested in connectivity for the community. It would help students, the faculty, the community as a whole.”
The original 2000 West Park PUD allowed for 70,000 square feet of commercial development and 906 apartments. Nearly five years ago, representatives met with Rudy Belton, owner of Buffalo Equities, to discuss with him the possibility that the development could be part of a Town Center for Oak Hill. A PUD amendment was filed in 2009 for 365,000 square feet of retail, 450,000 square feet of medical/general office, multiple ball fields, an athletic complex, an eight-story hotel, a movie theater and nearly 500 residential units. Mitigation for the high percentage of impervious cover (40 percent rather than the required 25 percent) was being discussed.
The ball fields were included at the request of locals who complained that the current Oak Hill fields were filled to capacity. West Park PUD representatives were surprised when residents living closest to the proposed fields complained about the potential noise they could bring. The plan was changed, and it was changed again when people voiced support for a vertical mixed-use design. A score of meetings with local stakeholders over the three years brought no consensus on what exactly Oak Hill wants at that location.
The development was then redesigned to accommodate 25 percent impervious cover, but while the footprint became smaller, the buildings were taller to accommodate the same density.
The community has heard little about the project in the past year, but Joseph said they have reached out to the local neighborhoods twice in recent months with no response. “We’ve been committed to the public process for several years,” he said. “What was a long list of neighborhood issues is now a very short list.”
But some local residents don’t feel representatives of the project have done enough to engage them.
At the January meeting of the Oak Hill Association of Neighborhoods (OHAN), Robert Kleeman of Hill Country Estates asked the group to reject the development’s request for an indefinite postponement at the Planning Commission. He said, “Rudy Belton and his advisors have evaded, avoided and dodged participating with us in that process. Frankly, they’re at the end of their rope, and now its time to pull off the rope. My position is they need to start working with the community rather than trying to work around us.”
OHAN voted in favor of a resolution opposing the postponement. Dick Armitage of Shadowridge Crossing supported the resolution. He told the Gazette, “The developer has not been responsive to the concerns expressed by the neighborhoods regarding the amount of traffic that would be generated by the size of the commercial development proposed in the PUD application.”
Joseph said that is precisely what they are working on in the phased planning. “As traffic improvements occur, more and more of the development can be built.” He added, “We’re still optimistic, putting one foot in front of the other.”
Said Joseph, “We’ll continue to work with those in Oak Hill that are willing to sit down and talk to us to see if we can get the remaining issues resolved and get this thing before the Planning Commission, the City Council, to hopefully get approved. I believe this is a good thing for Oak Hill, something that needs to happen. It will help kick start that area and can lead to the resolution of a lot of issues on down the line. I think it’s an important project for Oak Hill.”
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