The Austin City Council attempted Tuesday to push warring neighborhood groups and developers toward a deal over the Grove at Shoal Creek.
Under a proposal — which appeared to have support from opponents and supporters of the proposed central city development — laid out by Mayor Steve Adler at a council discussion, the council Thursday would tentatively approve zoning the site for the 75-acre mixed-use project.
The details of the project, though, would remain in flux as negotiations over the project continue. The project would have to return to the council for final approval before construction could begin.
“My sense is that there are still moving pieces,” Adler told his fellow council members. “For that reason, I’m not sure it’s constructive for us to put the neighborhoods through yet another drill.”
The Grove is one of the largest and most controversial projects currently planned in Austin. Developer ARG Bull Creek wants to build 1,700 residences and 360,000 square feet of retail and office space on the 75 acres of nearly empty land, just south of 45th Street.
Neighborhoods surrounding the project have bitterly opposed it, claiming it would flood their streets with traffic. The American-Statesman found that city officials removed or downplayed findings from staff engineers that questioned the developer’s plans to manage the traffic. ARG and the project’s supporters say the developer will address the traffic needs, and they say the Grove would provide the city with much-needed housing.
“This has become kind of a war zone, battle zone in the neighborhoods,” said Council Member Sheri Gallo, whose District 10 includes the site. “What we see is this project has produced that kind of passion and disagreement, and that’s not a good place to be.”
The fight has spilled over into two council races this election: Gallo, who supports the project, is being challenged by two project critics, Alison Alter and Rob Walker; District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool, a top critic of ARG’s proposal, is being challenged by a vocal supporter of the Grove, Natalie Gauldin.
Adler laid out his “placeholder” proposal a day after ARG threatened to pull the plug on its plans if the council approved Pool’s suggestions to downsize the office and retail components — saying they’d opt to build single-family homes on the property instead.
“We wish to be very clear to avoid any doubt that a vote for the Pool Amendments will be a vote for conventional zoning and a vote against affordable housing,” ARG lobbyist Jeff Howard wrote in bold type.
Members of the Bull Creek Road Coalition, which has been critical of the project, fired back in a letter of their own to City Council members late Monday. The group’s vice president, Grayson Cox, wrote that Howard’s “letter is filled with fear-mongering claims that have been debunked many times before.”
Adler’s placeholder zoning, as the mayor described it, would include the amount of housing sought by the developer, while cutting the office and retail space significantly, a major concession sought by project critics such as the Bull Creek Road Coalition.
Those specifics, Adler said, came with the explicit proviso that negotiations would continue and could change. Other sticking points over drainage and parkland wouldn’t be addressed by Adler’s placeholder.
Adler’s attempt at cajoling the warring parties back to the table was another flash of his mediator past, which has occasionally shown up in high-profile City Hall battles. For instance, during the fight over developing new ride-hailing rules, Adler tried — and failed — to find a middle ground with Uber and Lyft by offering to make the fingerprinting of their drivers voluntary.
This time, though, both sides seemed interested in at least a temporary cease-fire.
“I think that’s a fair suggestion,” Pool said. “I think it acknowledges there are some differences in the array of amendments.”
Gallo also backed the idea, saying it could help bring the sides closer together.
“We’re far from being there, at this point,” she said.
If the City Council approves Mayor Steve Adler’s “placeholder” zoning proposal Thursday, the proposed Grove at Shoal Creek would still have to return to the council for two more votes at future meetings before it is finally approved. It is unclear when those future votes would be.