- Nolan Hicks American-Statesman Staff
The Austin City Council has given final approval to the Grove at Shoal Creek, a controversial Central Austin development that could bring up to 1,500 new housing units to the city’s core.
The project, approved on a series of votes late Thursday, largely ratified the agreement hammered out between the developer, ARG Bull Creek, and the surrounding neighborhoods after nearly two years of raucous debate. However, the council expanded and restructured the affordable housing requirements.
“It’s been a long road to get here and the road was rough at times — it was rough at times,” said District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool, who represents many of the neighborhoods who opposed the project. “But at the end of the day, we put in a lot of work on this because we realized how special this opportunity really is, and we wanted to get it right.”
District 10 Council Member Sheri Gallo, who represents the district where the project will be built, thanked the city staff and the neighbors for their work.
“It became a very difficult and uncomfortable situation. I saw lots of comments that were made in the public media and the social media. … And that’s just not a good place to be,” she said. “I think the fact that everyone has been able to come together and be respectful, and to have good conversation … and to really work hard to get there, is very much appreciated.”
Gallo lost her bid for re-election in a runoff Tuesday night to a critic of the Grove project, Alison Alter, who had suggested the council should hold off on this vote until she takes office in January.
But the project was approved Thursday after nearly two hours of debate by a final vote of 10-1, with just District 8 Council Member Ellen Troxclair dissenting.
More affordable units
The project will be built on 75 acres of nearly empty land near 45th Street and Bull Creek Road. The Texas Department of Transportation once owned the site and offered in 2014 to sell it to the city, but Austin officials couldn’t cobble together the $28.5 million to buy it.
Under the agreement negotiated by ARG Bull Creek and the Bull Creek Road Coalition, the main group representing the surrounding neighborhoods, the developer plans to build 325,000 square feet of office and retail space. However, City Council members did tinker around the edges Thursday night with a series of amendments that:
• Increased the amount of affordable housing, from a projected 138 or 139 units to 160 units.
• Restructured the income requirements and unit availability of the affordable housing. The number of rental units available for families of four making less than $46,680 a year was bumped up from 72 to 89. However, the 10 units for purchase initially planned for families of four making between $62,251 and $93,360 were eliminated.
• Paid for the affordable housing with $13 million in fee waivers and money from the city’s affordable housing trust fund, at a cost of roughly $82,000 per unit.
District 4 Council Member Greg Casar, who brought the amendment that boosted the number of affordable housing units, had incurred the wrath of the Bull Creek Road Coalition when he suggested during a workshop Tuesday that commercial development could be expanded to help generate more money for affordable housing.
His plan Thursday, which was accepted by the council, instead boosted the city subsidy for the affordable housing units.
“The Grove’s large amount of parkland, great schools nearby, and all the other benefits of living in central-west Austin should not be created exclusively for the wealthy,” Casar said in a statement after the project’s approval.
Not everyone happy
Troxclair and District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman spoke out against subsidizing the creation of affordable housing.
“I’ve been really struggling to support this project from the beginning,” Troxclair said during the debate, before casting the lone no vote. “I don’t believe that subsidized housing is the way we’re going to get affordable housing in this city.”
On the other hand, District 2 Council Member Delia Garza wanted even more affordable housing. She also expressed support for an earlier plan to extend Jackson Avenue to 45th Street, which was removed from the final plan after fierce opposition from the neighbors. The council approved Garza’s amendment to at least connect those streets with a bike and pedestrian path.
“I’m really concerned for this city,” said Garza. “I really hope that we, as a council, moving forward, stop making these exceptions for this development, that we’re not going to do connectivity.”
Before the nearly two months of mediated talks led to a deal between the developer and the Bull Creek Road Coalition, many of the nearby neighborhoods strongly opposed the project. They complained the Grove would flood their streets with traffic and hurt their quality of life.
Thanks to a quirk of geography, the fight became the dominating issue in two City Council races this year. Pool, who represents District 7 and co-founded the Bull Creek Road Coalition, roundly defeated project supporter Natalie Gauldin in the November election. In District 10, project critic Alter beat Gallo, a Grove supporter, in Tuesday’s runoff.