by: Cathy Kyle
Last Friday night, neighbors converged on Tarrytown Park for a screening of Big Hero Six. The park was full of kids of all ages and their parents, spread out on blankets, playing soccer, running around the gaga ball pit, and enjoying a fine late summer evening. Kudos to Board Member Elizabeth Adams for organizing and to all of our great sponsors: Grande Communications, UrbanSpace Realtors, Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, Texas Oncology, Guest Spaces, Sewanaka Restoration and Design, The Pat Jones Family, and The Joe Lostracco Family. Join us for another party in Tarrytown Park on October 17, 2015 at 11 am for WANG’s Annual Social. It’s a great opportunity to re-connect with neighbors, make new friends, and to let us know what’s important to you.
Last Friday, I placed WANG’s table strategically near the keg and guarded the donations box to increase the chance of meeting neighbors and talking to them about joining our neighborhood association. The first question nearly everyone asked was, “What’s going on in the neighborhood?” and the second question was, “So what’s WANG’s position on that?”
I had not arrived with talking points in mind, but it didn’t take much to answer these questions off the cuff. WANG’s primary responsibility is to provide a voice for neighbors at the City, whether it is the Planning and Zoning Department or City Council. The only land use questions that come before us usually are variance questions, when we’re asked to enforce the McMansion ordinance or allow some incursion into the ordinance’s application.
Last Friday, I spoke with one gentleman at length who told me that he had moved to Tarrytown because of problems with a homeowners’ association (HOA) in another part of the City. I’ve seen postings on various websites that seem to confuse WANG with an HOA. Unlike an HOA, WANG has no enforcement authority and cannot tell any homeowner what they can or cannot do with their property. Instead, we encourage folks to talk to their neighbors about any proposed changes and we generally weigh in before Planning and Zoning on behalf of the neighbors.
Another hot topic in the neighborhood is the continuing evolution of short-term rentals (STRs) in the city. While there is little concern about homeowners renting out their homes periodically, there has been much hue and cry about commercial short-term rentals, or Type 2 STRs. Last February, I wrote in this newsletter about Target renting out an STR for an entire week to host a bridal registry event. westaustinng.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/WANG-Newsletter-February-2015.pdf. A similar problem came up a couple block from my house when a historic home was advertised as a wedding and special event venue.
The same problems have been discussed at City Council over the last month: commercial use of property in residential areas, lack of City oversight, loud parties, and traffic problems. Mayor Pro-Tem Kathie Tovo has noted that allowing commercial ventures such as Type 2 STRs in residential neighborhoods depletes the housing stock and erodes efforts to provide affordable housing in the City limits. Having a commercial STR on your street means that you don’t have neighbors and you don’t have schoolchildren. Not only do commercial STRs erode housing stock, they diminish the fabric of our neighborhoods.
Last Friday night, a woman overheard me talking about STRs, and she asked what WANG thought about commercial STRs already in existence. She had clients who had bought several rental properties in Austin specifically to rent out as commercial STRs. What about her clients’ investment? Interesting question, but of course, the landlords could always rent the property out as a traditional long-term rental, which would satisfy the need for affordable housing and contributing to the life of the neighborhood rather than encouraging a transient population.
WANG has also followed the development of The Grove, as Milestone Community Builders has dubbed the tract at 45th and Bull Creek, formerly owned by TxDOT and the City. Long before the property was sold, nearby neighbors formed the Bull Creek Road Coalition to work with the City and the developer in envisioning the future of the property. Although this tract is not within WANG’s boundaries, its development may serve as a template for development of state-owned property within our own neighborhood. We continue to oppose the closing of the State Assisted Living Center (we survived yet another Legislative session this year) and Lions Municipal Golf Course, but the Brackenridge tract lease expires just around the corner, in 2019.
Not surprisingly, Milestone’s initial proposal included extremely dense development, little parkland, and promises of large retail, restaurants and “cocktail lounges.” The parkland included in the proposal covers the Shoal Creek river bed and cliffs which are not amenable to development or any other recreational use. bcrcatx.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/The-Grove-Land-Use-Plan.pdf. The carrot that Milestone offers the City is a promise of affordable housing, but so far, there’s been no commitment to the number or price of affordable housing included in the final plan. Instead, the 1500+ housing units proposed promises major headaches for the surrounding streets.
There are other recurring issues that we address, such as the continuing construction of MoPac, the proposed expansion of MoPac to the south, Austin Pets Alive’s compliance with local ordinances, traffic calming along Winsted Lane, development along Enfield, and development at 3215 Exposition, now in its tenth year. If these or other issues interest you, or if you’re interested in the direction of our neighborhood in the future, please join us. You can mail in your membership using the form on the back of this newsletter, go to our website at westaustinng.com, or stop by our Annual Meeting next month. I hope to see you there!