The Leander Planning and Zoning Commission on June 28 approved rezoning land to make way for a mixed-income apartment development and voted down a request that would bring a gas station to the entrance of The Highlands at Crystal Falls subdivision.
Both actions will go before City Council in July for approval.
The commission voted in favor of rezoning 55 acres west of the Leander Public Library and south along Old Quarry Road. The property is planned for a mixed-income community that includes a senior living apartment unit developed by Merritt Communities, the same company responsible for Leander Station Senior Village.
The land is located outside city limits, but the applicant—Blake Rue on behalf of Margaret Moser and Carolyn S. Meihaus—brought forth the request to coincide with the parcel’s upcoming proposed annexation.
In February, City Council signed a letter of support for the Merritt development. The support allowed developer Colby Dennison to seek millions in federal tax credits to build the mixed-income community. Dennison and Rue are working on the joint venture called Connelly’s Crossing, which features affordable single-family homes, a 100-unit senior living apartment building and a mixed-income family complex.
Most of the 200 or so apartments in the mixed-income complex will be reserved for households who earn 60 percent of the area median income or less, Dennison said. The senior living facility will have age restrictions but no income restrictions. While Merritt only anticipates receiving tax credits the mixed-income development, Dennison said the success of Leander Station, which reached an unprecedented 192 residents in nine months, drove him to build more senior housing in Leander.
“This year, in order to be in a position to be funded [with federal tax credits], you had to be a family property,” he said, noting intense competition for the funds from other developers. “But we are absolutely going to start a market rate apartment community for seniors not subsidized by federal funds. It’s just been a phenomenal success.”
Dennison said he hopes to break ground on the new development by September.
Commissioners Ronald Abruzzes and Jeff Seiler voted against the rezoning. Vice Chair Betty Saenz was absent.
Also at the June 28 meeting, dozens of residents from the Crystal Falls neighborhood spoke out against a rezoning application—from Kristiana Alfsen on behalf of The Lookout Group and Key-Deer holdings—that would allow a gas station at the northwest corner of North Lakeline Boulevard and Osage Road. The Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously voted down the measure due to safety concerns.
The zoning request called for allowance of a neighborhood market with four gas pumps at the entrance to The Highlands of Crystal Falls subdivision. The undeveloped parcel, which totals 3.123 acres, neighbors a community pool, Winkley Elementary School and Running Brushy Middle School.
Crystal Falls residents pointed to safety and health concerns for children and families walking to school who would pass the gas station and potentially breathe in fumes. Neighbors also expressed concern about heavy traffic, decreasing property values and crime associated with a nearby gas station.
“This entrance to our community is like our front door,” said resident Jim Schmitt, piggybacking on a theme touched upon by multiple speakers. “I see fuel cells like port-a-potty. I don't want to smell that stuff when I drive by, no matter how nice it looks.”
Alfsen presented the commissioners with maps and schematic designs of the proposed gas station, along with the self-imposed standards the owner agreed to offer. Alfsen said the gas station would not sell lottery tickets, adult magazines, propane gas or have outdoor ice machines. The zoning application requested to raise the architectural standards and make way for other local commercial developments, which could include offices and child care centers.
“After most of the property is developed, there are always a few outlying parcels on which the zoning doesn't make sense anymore,” Alfsen said. “[The owner] has the right to make the piece of property marketable.”
Place 5 Commissioner Richard Allen said he wished the applicants would have brought forth more information in preparation for the meeting. Alfsen discussed a number of documents including traffic studies and resident surveys related to the application, but commissioners said they did not receive that data.
“I think that you needed to be a little bit more forthcoming with a lot of the material that you said you have, because we don't have it,” Allen said. “These people have come out and made compassionate pleas. We have to listen to what our community is saying, and we have to take it seriously.”
Council will hear the first reading for both planning and zoning ordinances July 5, with a second and final reading scheduled for July 19.