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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.