Keep Oak Hill Odd (and Full of Oaks, Please)

7 Oct

by Roger White

 

Funny thing how towns, neighborhoods, and areas get their names—you know, like Oak Hill. This southwest Austin community we call home contains oak trees aplenty, as does a tiny parcel within the Oak Hill area known as Oak Acres. Now, to get to the lovely oak-lined circle of homes called Oak Acres, you go south on the Highway 290 service road just past Industrial Oaks and turn right onto, you guessed it, Oak Boulevard.

 

Stay with me, because there’s a very good reason the word “oak” is mentioned more than just a few times here. This cool little collection of homes is an agrarian alcove of green land, lush dollops of wildflowers, and—here it comes—lots of grand oak trees. This may not be for long, however, if developers have their way. Spurred on by deep-pocketed builders, the city of Home in Oak AcresAustin is considering a zoning change that would allow for the construction of 80+ condominiums in the small tract of gorgeous land behind Oak Acres. Where now one views a blanket of blue larkspur and evening primrose, wild rabbits, a copse of graceful trees, and glorious, expansive sunsets, one may soon see only the bedroom windows of two-story condominiums and lots of industrial-grade siding.

 

Yes, Oak Acres may soon become Condo Corner.

 

What’s happening, you see, is a sad refrain of what happens to so many treasured places these days. Big-money developers see unused virgin land; virgin land owners see dollar signs; city officials look the other way; and area homeowners see their precious community turned into Cleveland. You hear these woeful stories all the time.

 

In this particular case, the area known as the Harper Park Tract, which butts up against tiny Oak Acres, was recently coveted by a megalithic homebuilder who will remain unnamed. The builder sidled up to the owner of this rural acreage, flashed some impressive dollar figures, you get the ideaand you can guess the rest. The homeowners’ group in Oak Acres has tried to negotiate with the developer (this should be read as “the developers’ high-priced lawyer team”)—but after mutually agreed-upon concessions were ignored or completely changed by the developer’s legal beagles when ink was put to paper, the Oak Acres homeowners decided to fight.

 

Understand, good people, that there are fewer than 40 homes in this charming little neighborhood. This means there aren’t too many folks going to bat for the Oak Acres team. If you’re getting a David-and-Goliath sort of image in your mind’s eye about now, then you are getting the picture. If you’ve never been to Oak Acres, you should go. It’s just a simple circle—one way in, one way out. The homes are unpretentious and appealing; the properties are well-maintained and full of bicycles and toys, front-porch swings and gardens—the pleasant trappings of family life on the rural edge. The lots are about a half-acre or more each, with room to breathe and play. However, if the condos clamber in, at an average of about five of them an acre, the folks here can kiss this quality of life goodbye.

 

yer typical lawyerAs it stands now, the little guys have a petition in place; the Oak Acres folks need at least two city council members to vote with them to oppose the zoning change, effectively blocking a super-majority required to override the petition. What this would mean, of course, is that a city official would have to side with homeowners, not big-money business. That’s always a tough one, it seems. Last I heard was that the city council was planning on meeting October 17 to consider the matter.

 

Who’s willing to go to bat for David? Wouldn’t it be something for the little guys—the homeowners—to win one?

 

Roger White is a freelance writer living in Austin, Texas, with his lovely wife, two precocious daughters, a very fat dachshund, and a self-absorbed cat. For further adventures, visit oldspouse.wordpress.com.

 

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6 Responses to “Keep Oak Hill Odd (and Full of Oaks, Please)”

  1. shrink on the couch October 7, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

    Thank you, Roger !! We love it !!

    • oPSA October 7, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

      You have your facts wrong. The developer has negotiated with the Oak Park neighborhood and agreed to all items requested. He has joined the neighborhood in asking the city to incorporate the neighborhoods requests into a public restrictive covenant. The covenant woul limit the number of units, provide for significant setbacks and provide for a 25foot vegetative buffer and more. I can’t imagine why he would work with one neighborhood and not another.

  2. lexy3587 October 8, 2013 at 6:59 am #

    That place sounds lovely – I really hope they win. We are having a similar (though less extreme) issue in my area. Originally a cottagey area outside of Toronto, it’s now a suburb of the City, with decent sized lots and hardly any houses you could describe as ‘the same’. We’re getting a lot of builders coming in, tearing down individual houses and putting two tall narrow houses where once one stood. And then moving on to the house next door. It’s like the borg are moving in, and they’ve all got a near-identical idea of what a house should look like. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the Davids 🙂

  3. chn1219 October 8, 2013 at 11:45 am #

    oPSA, Or maybe you have your facts wrong.

    The developers “negotiated” with Oak Park, yes. However they gave Oak Park less than what the land owner and the developer (collectively referred to here as “the developers”), both neighborhoods and the neighborhood contact team voted on at the July meeting.

    The developers repeatedly promised Conditional Overlays (COs) which is the only reason Oak Acres came to the table. The developers reneged and wrote up a list of *Private* Restrictive Covenants which the city cannot enforce. It took Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) to request the RCs be put into CO’s.

    Oak Park informed Oak Acres that the developer would put a bond into the RCs and yet P&Z asked if they had discussed a bond and the developer replied “no,” they had not. Oak Acres has yet to hear an offer to attach a bond. Not to mention, most bonds are so weak that no relief is gained by the neighbors.

    The covenant limited the number of units? Technically, yes. But understand – it will be a miracle if the land and the city’s constraints will even allow the number “agreed to.” A bit of history: Oak Park and Oak Acres asked for 72 as a maximum (their design showed 72). The developer then asked for 80 at the contact team meeting. Both neighborhoods conceded to 76. And yet, at P&Z, the developers requested “up to 80” units.

    Are we seeing a pattern here?

    Provide for significant setbacks? Oak Acres asked for 75 ft setback. Oak Acres is subject to significant flooding. Oak Acres is on the down slope of Oak Park and the development and has far less in the way of trees on the site line. At one point in the “negotiations” Oak Park asked for 75 ft as well or perhaps they “compromised” at 65 ft. So the developers eventually “gave” a 50 ft setback. Note: Fifty feet is the minimum setback the city allows with a two story home. That’s not a concession but the developers presented it as if it were.

    Vegetative buffer? The developers agreed and the contact team voted yes to a 25 ft buffer “with no development of any kind,” a request presented on overhead and underlined by the neighborhoods. And yet? In the Oak Park covenant and at P&Z the buffer was worded such that drainage utilities and a fence at the property line could be installed. Installation of a fence requires destroying much of the buffer. Second, how are we assured the new condo owners won’t encroach on (cut down trees, place a shed on) whatever vegetative buffer gets restored? The buffer will be inside their fence and look like their property. A true concession by the developer would be to put the fence at the setback, not on the property line.

    So in the view of Oak Acres, the developer “gave” little or nothing to Oak Park. Oak Acres did attempt to negotiate with the developers but we backed out after multiple deceptions and artful manipulations.

  4. bl morgan July 25, 2014 at 1:17 am #

    Follow up: City council voted 4-3 against the condo project. Every once in a great while David wins. http://www.austinchronicle.com/news/2014-07-18/then-theres-this-whither-vested-rights/

    • oldspouse July 25, 2014 at 8:17 am #

      All right. David 3,Goliath 0. A field goal from long range!

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