Monday April 11th, 2022 by Jonathan Lee
One of the most anticipated redevelopment projects in Austin’s history has come one step closer to approval.
City Council unanimously approved the Planned Unit Development (PUD) zoning on Thursday in the first of three readings for the former Austin American Statesman site, of which 19 acres of office space and parking are currently vacant adjacent to Lady Bird Lake.
“This is an exciting conversation simply because this flyer could very well be the most important flyer in town,” Mayor Steve Adler said.
Plans include six towers ranging from 215 to 525 feet in height with a total of 1,378 residential units, 1.5 million square feet of office space, 275 hotel rooms, and 150,000 square feet of retail and dining. More than half of the site will be transformed into public space. Developer Endeavor Real Estate Group has pledged to pay to rebuild a walking and cycling path, lawn, bat viewing area, plazas and rain gardens. Other features, including a lakeside promenade, are also planned, although who will pay for them is up for debate.
The development will also change the way people move around the region. Endeavor has pledged to make space for an on-site Blue Line light rail station as well as build – but without payment – an extensive street network that will bring Barton Springs Road through Congress Avenue. The project will include 4,000 parking spaces, almost all underground.
The project team, in addition to Endeavour, includes architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Armbrust & Brown lawyer Richard Suttle.
Although rezoning approval seems inevitable, much work remains to finalize key details; namely, on-site affordable housing and funding for park and road improvements. To get the conversation started, Council voted 10-0, with Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison off the stage, to approve the Planning Commission’s recommendations at first reading along with other changes requested by the Member. of Kathie Tovo Council.
The planning commission last month unanimously recommended that the Board approve the PUD after making 24 recommendations ranging from adjustments to major changes. The most consequential change is to make the developer pay for all park and road improvements — a demand that would make the project financially unfeasible, according to Suttle.
Tovo’s most important request is that 10% of the units be affordable instead of 4% as proposed by the developer. The 4% figure is in line with both the recommendation of the Planning Commission and a vision plan for the area approved by Council in 2016.
While Suttle insisted that everything was still on the table, he repeatedly pointed out that too many requirements would sink the project. “He has to be financially strong,” he said. “That’s the key.” It is for this reason that some Council members have stated that they will not support all of the Planning Commission’s amendments.
The development team expects the city to share infrastructure costs through a tax increase reinvestment area for the South Central Waterfront, a 118-acre area that includes the Statesman site. The TIRZ, which the Council laid the groundwork for last year but did not finalize, will redirect future property tax revenues to parks, roads and affordable housing in the area.
Council member Chito Vela suggested allowing taller buildings so the developer could provide more benefits to the community. Suttle said more rights would be welcome, but warned that additional underground parking for taller buildings could be difficult to construct so close to Lady Bird Lake. Vela also floated the idea of directing the money from the project to accommodate homeless people instead of demanding affordable housing that wouldn’t be built for years.
While it’s not yet clear when the matter will come back for second and third readings, it will likely take at least a month. Adler said the next council meeting on April 21 would not give council members enough time to work out the details of the complex proposal.
Courtesy of 305 South Congress PUD via City of Austin.
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Posted in: Planning, District 9
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