Heading into Thursday’s Austin City Council meeting, it appeared developers of a planned 24-story downtown tower that includes a luxury hotel would be squaring off with residents of a nearby condo tower who opposed some aspects of the project.
But after a last-minute deal hit the “reset button” on the dialogue between the opposing parties, the City Council gave initial approval for a zoning change that will allow the project — which will include 226 apartments and a 160-room Hotel ZaZa — to move forward.
The council’s 7-0 vote came after Richard Suttle Jr., attorney for developer Gables Residential, and John Joseph, attorney for the residents, reached an 11th-hour agreement on several items outside the Council chambers.
Gables made several concessions to the group of homeowners at Plaza Lofts, at 311 W. Fifth St., who said that the new building — as previously planned — would block sunlight and fresh air on their balconies, would would be just 16 feet from the proposed tower.
Under the agreement, Gables will consult with Plaza Lofts residents on the design of the new building’s north façade that faces the Plaza Lofts and work with them on sound-buffering measures on the project’s planned pool deck.
Suttle apologized to Plaza Lofts residents Thursday that the conflict over the project “jumped the track” and reached an impasse. “I’m glad it’s back on track,” he said.
“Now we’re back to talking as neighbors,” said Joe Cain, a resident of the Plaza Lofts condo building next to the project, which Gables plans to break ground on late this year on West Fourth Street between Lavaca and Guadalupe streets. Gables anticipates a late 2015 opening for the project.
Jennifer Wiebrand, development director for Gables, said the company “looks forward to bringing this signature project to Austin.” She said she wished the dispute could have been resolved sooner, but “it’s better late than never.”
One key request Plaza Lofts residents had made was for developers to move the building farther east to give them “a little bit of breathing room,” said Stephanie Sachnowitz, who owns two units in Plaza Lofts.
That request was not possible to meet, Wiebrand said. To set the tower even further back from Guadalupe as Plaza Lofts residents requested would have significantly increased costs, making the project financially unfeasible, she said. She also said that two apartment towers now under construction downtown — including one Gables itself is building near Cesar Chavez Street and South Lamar Boulevard — will impact some views in existing Gables projects.
In addition, the zoning ordinance will cap the height of any structure on the westernmost portion of the tract at 75 feet, while allowing an additional 14 feet for canopies or other sound-reduction devices, as well as other building features. Scaling down the height is intended to preserve as much light and air as possible for Plaza Lofts residents, Joseph said.
In a letter to the mayor and City Council in December, Josh Allen, president of the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, had said the group “generally supports” Gables’ rezoning application, “and we encourage the developer to work with the residents of Plaza Lofts to address their concerns.”
“Overall, we expect this building will help activate Republic Square Park and remove the urban blight of surface parking lot that it is today,” Allen wrote.