Developer seeks feedback from residents on proposed 11-story Spicewood Springs hotel

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nwa-2016-12-16-1A local developer who proposed an 11-story hotel called The Spicewood in Northwest Austin withdrew the site plan application Dec. 2 in an effort to work with residents to address their concerns about the development.

“I’m open to ideas on how to make it a better hotel and how to be a better neighbor,” developer David Kahn said, adding he plans to submit new plans after speaking with residents. “I wanted to pull back and talk to the neighbors and see if they would support something different.”

His original plans were for an 11-story, 132,000-square-foot hotel with 120 rooms on an 11.39-acre tract of land at 6315 Spicewood Springs Road, Austin, adjacent to Bull Creek.

“You’re trying to achieve a balance between conservation and bringing people in to experience and enjoy the creek,” Kahn said.

But residents have raised issues about the proposed hotel’s effect on the environment and traffic congestion.

Kahn said he plans to only build on 5.8 percent of the land because of the city’s watershed protection ordinance. He said hotel guests would also not be driving on Spicewood Springs Road during peak periods when residents are driving to and from work.

Because the site is not located within city limits, it does not have any zoning.

“We have somewhat limited control when it comes to these sites,” city of Austin case manager Michael Simmons-Smith said. “We have no control over land use, [building]height, setbacks [or]the way the buildings and hotel look. Travis County is really going to be driving the car.”

Anna Bowlin, Travis County’s division director of development services and long-range planning, said the county is not permitted by the state to limit building heights, and any building setbacks would be environmentally related. She said the county routinely reviews a development’s effect on traffic, drainage and the environment.

Northwest Austin resident Rick Brimer, a resident of nearby Yaupon Bluffs neighborhood and president of the Bull Creek Foundation, said he and Joe Trak, vice president of the Yaupon Bluffs Homeowners Association, met with Kahn in late November.

“We feel this is a positive step that he is willing to withdraw the plan and look at other alternatives,” Brimer said. “It’s a long way between any final decision. It’s a good first step. We want to reach an agreement everyone can hopefully live with.”

Brimer said he and Trak are working to educate residents about how much the city can do given the site is not within city limits. Many residents they spoke to do not want the land developed, but others are open to ideas. Some are concerned about a hotel restricting the scenic view, Brimer said.

“One of the things people like about living in the Spicewood Springs area is the relatively rural nature of the area,” he said. “It’s quiet except during rush hour, and it’s a very scenic area with a view of the cliffs over Bull Creek.”

The section of Spicewood Springs Road near the proposed hotel site is two lanes with no shoulders, and it also floods when it rains. Brimer said future hotel guests might not know about low-water crossing closures, and residents are concerned additional traffic could be diverted to the more residential road of Yaupon Drive, Brimer said.

In the past, he said area residents have successfully worked with nearby property owners to develop more appropriate buildings for undeveloped properties along Spicewood Springs Road.

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Amy Denney
Amy has been reporting in community journalism since 2007. She worked in the Chicago suburbs for three years before migrating south and joined Community Impact Newspaper in September 2010. Amy has been editor of the Northwest Austin publication since August 2012 and she is also the transportation beat reporter for the Austin area.
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