by Bobbie Jean Sawyer
A new plan to develop one of the Oak Hill area’s last large urban infill tracts—a natural meadow where horses once grazed—has won over some neighborhood residents who were previously against development plans for the tract.
The 17-acre tract of land between Oak Boulevard and Oakclaire Drive is owned by the Whitfield Company, an Austin-based commercial real estate company. The company has proposed the construction of a single-family residential project targeting empty nesters—predominantly older couples without children—developed by David Weekley Homes.
The land, which is known as Harper Park, is currently zoned as limited office (LO) but the Whitfield Company will request to amend the existing base zoning to add a mixed-use (MU) combining district, which would allow for a single-family residential development, at the July 23 Planning Commission meeting. Multifamily residential, duplex residential, two-family residential and group residential uses will be excluded from the mixed-use zoning.
Ian Dietrich, Austin land manager at David Weekley Homes, said multifamily usage was excluded to appease neighbors surrounding the property.
“We’ve spoken with the adjacent neighbors and they wanted us to exclude those land uses so we’re responding to those concerns,” Dietrich said.
A previously proposed multifamily development on the land was derailed when neighbors stood in opposition to a developer’s plan to build three-story apartment buildings on the lot, which would have required a zoning change from limited office to multifamily.
Gail Whitfield, founder of the Whitfield Company, said a single-family housing development in one of the area’s last urban infill tracts fits with the city of Austin’s Imagine Austin plan.
“It fits Imagine Austin by providing diversity of housing,” Whitfield said. “We’ll get closer to Austin’s urban core and create homes closer to businesses.”
The development would be located near Freescale, St. Andrews Episcopal School and AMD.
The homes will be between 1,600 and 2,300 square feet and are estimated to cost an average of $370,000, Dietrich said.
Dietrich said the Harper Park development would emulate the Canyon Creek Villas, another David Weekley Homes development that targets empty nesters. Dietrich said
focusing on attracting an older buyer market ensures that local schools won’t be strained by an influx of new students.
“One of the concerns was because the Austin ISD schools in the area are overcrowded they wanted to make sure we didn’t bring in the types of things that might attract more family buyers,” Dietrich said. “So we have targeted an empty nester product.”
Dietrich also pointed to the construction of Harper Park Drive, a street built solely for the development to provide access to residents while limiting the traffic impact on surrounding neighborhoods.
“By building a road that services our parcel, our residents will be able to come out directly and go towards town or use the access road,” Dietrich said.
Another neighborhood resident concern was over glare from streetlights obstructing the night sky in an otherwise dark neighborhood. Dietrich said he can assure residents the area will remain dimly lit.
“A residential development there like ours, because it’s private streets, can promise to put in lower lights with less glare,” Dietrich said. “It wouldn’t be as intrusive.”
Dietrich said neighboring residents would directly benefit from their proximity to the development.
“For the local residents, it would increase their property values,” Dietrich said. “You would have a well developed community next to you that would keep crime down.”
However some local residents are reluctant to support the construction of the development.
Rodney Baker, treasurer for the Oak Acres Neighborhood Association, spoke about some of his concerns at the July 8 Oak Hill Neighborhood Planning Contact Team meeting.
Baker said while he likes the current proposal, he worries that if the David Weekley deal falls through, the mixed-use zoning modification could open the door to undesirable developments.
Dietrich said that even if the deal falls through, the Whitfield Company is willing to add conditional overlay language to limit any future developer at the site.
Residents voiced concern over loss of privacy, water runoff, the number of units in the development and property setback.
Marcus Whitfield of the Whitfield Company was also on hand to address questions.
Following the discussion, the Oak Hill Neighborhood Planning Contact Team (NPCT) voted unanimously to approve the mixed use zoning amendment, which would modify the zoning to limited office-mixed use (LO-MU), and to support the neighborhoods’ terms and conditions for the development. Two members abstained from voting.
The terms set by the neighborhoods are as followed:
- The development will be no more than 76 units.
- There will be a 75 foot setback from property on the eastern side and a 50 foot setback from property on the western side.
- David Weekley Homes will develop in accordance with the city of Austin, practicing the best uses to detain and treat the storm water runoff from the development.
- David Weekley Homes will communicate with the neighbors downstream throughout the site plan process regarding water treatment.
The NPCT decision along with the neighborhood terms and conditions will be presented to the Planning Commission at the July 23rd meeting. Monica Gaylord, an Oakclaire Drive resident since 1986 who once leased the Harper Park land for her horses, said she was initially reluctant to see the land developed, hoping that it could remain the natural pasture she’s known it to be for so many years.
“Of course we didn’t want to see it go away. But this is progress. It’s Austin,” Gaylord said. “Land is valuable.”
Gaylord said the land left undeveloped is currently a major fire hazard, due to the drought and the trees cut down and left by previous developers.
“There used to be trails back there. Now all the brush is down and you can’t walk. It’s very unsafe. It just needs to be cleaned up,” Gaylord said. “It’s just like a big pile of firewood.”
Gaylord said after viewing the Canyon Creek Villas, she feels confident David Weekley Homes would produce a beneficial neighboring development.
“The clientele that they’re attracting is exactly what I’d like to see out there,” Gaylord said. “This is the first time that I’ve said ‘yeah it sounds good.’”
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