Mansions make great apartments

Today City Council postponed a rezoning for a giant house in Judges Hill. The property is currently zoned single-family, but the neighborhood association has agreed to allow it to be rezoned to office use so that it can become the new headquarters of the Austin Bar Association.

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That makes sense. What better place for a lawyers group than Judges Hill? Plus, a lot of the old houses around there have been converted to offices for lawyers, accountants, nonprofits and the like.

However, JHNA wanted to make sure that, if the bar association ever decides to leave, the future owner of the property will be strictly limited in what it can do with the land. It got the bar association to agree to a private restrictive covenant that only allows the following uses: Professional Office, Administrative Office, Single-Family Residential.

Basically, it can be used as an office or as a homeĀ  for a fabulously wealthy family. It cannot be used to provide several homes to several middle-income households. Former mansions, by the way, can make great multi-family residences. This is where my wife and I lived in Madison, Wis., for three years between age 23-26. I think it had 6-8 units.

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Private restrictive covenants are a contract between the property owner and the neighborhood association. The city cannot override it with zoning changes but nor will the city enforce it. If the property owner violates the contract, it’s up to the neighbors to go to court. In a neighborhood like Judges Hill, the neighbors have the knowledge, time and means to do that.

While the restrictive covenant is the worst part of this deal, what is almost as bad is the conditional overlay that city staff has recommended, at the behest of the neighbors. A conditional overlay is in fact a part of city zoning that the city will enforce. This is what the proposed CO excludes from the property:

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Why can’t this be the site of a daycare? Or an art gallery? And I’m really starting to wonder where future residential treatment centers are going to go, since every neighborhood association seems to believe that their neighborhood is not an appropriate location.

I sent an email to the JHNA asking for comment but I haven’t heard back.


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