City Council signs off on Austin Oaks redevelopment


Highlights

Council approves Austin Oaks plan, ending a three-year redevelopment fight in Northwest Austin.

New council compromise on Austin Oaks reduced housing from 425 to 375 new units. Up to 41 could be affordable.

After hammering out a final set of trade-offs, the City Council approved the redevelopment plans for the Austin Oaks office park, bringing an end to the nearly three-year fight over the site.

The plan would bring new office towers, retail and up to 375 new housing units — including 41 for lower income residents — to replace the business park, which sits on 31 acres at MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) and Spicewood Springs Road. It was approved Thursday night on an 8-2 vote.

“This has been a long process for District 10 and the community around Austin Oaks,” said Council Member Alison Alter, who voted against the final proposal for the project in her Northwest Austin District 10. “I hope that it’s evident to everyone the (zoning) process we have is broken and needs to be changed.”

Council Member Kathie Tovo, who represents Central Austin’s District 9, cast the other nay vote. Council Member Leslie Pool of North Austin’s District 7 was absent.

Some of the council members who voted for the project pointed to Austin’s need for more housing, particularly affordable housing. Mayor Steve Adler noted the council navigated some difficult issues to reach this result.

“I’m proud of what we did today,” Adler said. “I think we were able to find the best way forward.”

Alter’s call to examine how Austin City Hall considers large projects such as Austin Oaks received widespread support on the dais.

Council Member Ann Kitchen, who represents South Austin’s District 5, said the process had become “torturous” — a sentiment echoed by Council Member Sabino “Pio” Renteria, who represents East Austin’s District 3.

The compromise approved Thursday night cut a floor off one of the two residential buildings (capping both buildings at four stories), downsized two parking garages and included a trigger that guarantees at least 27 income-restricted affordable housing units are built.

The vote came after two hours of debate and days of drama at City Hall as rumors circulated that the project’s developer, Dallas-based Spire Realty, was lobbying neighboring landowners to remove their names from a petition challenging the zoning change for the project.

When the council last took up the project in March, the owners of more than 20 percent of the surrounding land had signed the petition, which meant that a likely unreachable nine-vote supermajority of the City Council would be needed for approval. However, by the time Thursday’s vote came, a couple of those landowners had removed their names from the petition, allowing the council to approve the project with a simple majority.

WATCH: Alter calls out colleagues in heated March debate

The revisions made Thursday marked at least the third major set of changes made to plans to redevelop the aging office park. Initially, in 2014, Spire proposed a development that included two 17-story towers, which surrounding neighborhoods opposed amid concerns the area’s roads would become clogged with additional traffic.

Spire eventually started a new design process that incorporated neighborhood input. That resulted in a downsized plan that called for 1.2 million square feet of development, instead of the originally proposed 1.6 million, and capped building heights at seven stories. The revamped plan also included parkland, affordable housing and improved stormwater drainage. That plan was backed by one major neighborhood group, the North West Austin Civic Association, and the council gave tentative support in December.

Stiff opposition remained to Spire’s downsized plan, which helped fuel Alter’s runoff win in last December’s runoff against then-Council Member Sheri Gallo. Opponents still worried about the added traffic and the loss of trees on the redeveloped site.

RELATED: Opponent uses eggs, diorama, heavy metal music to fight Austin Oaks

After a raucous debate in March, the council approved a series of changes to the proposal. It axed the proposed hotel and replaced it with a second residential building, more than doubling the proposed housing from 200 units to 425 units — and the affordable housing from 20 to 46 units. In exchange, it would allow the developer to add two stories, making it nine stories total, to an office building that would be located next to MoPac and to build larger parking garages.

Thursday’s proposal scaled back some of those changes, including going from 46 affordable housing units to 41, but allowed the office building to keep its nine-story height.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

What John McCain learned from Ted Kennedy on challenging his own party
What John McCain learned from Ted Kennedy on challenging his own party

WASHINGTON — Ted Kennedy liked to tell a favorite story about Sen. John McCain. The Massachusetts Democrat and the Arizona Republican were on the floor of the Senate and became distracted by a heated debate between two freshmen senators. Just for the fun of it, Kennedy and McCain launched into the fray. As one spoke, the other circled...
How would funding for homeless be spent under Adler’s downtown plan?
How would funding for homeless be spent under Adler’s downtown plan?

Austin Mayor Steve Adler recently rolled out a plan for expanding the Austin Convention Center downtown while simultaneously addressing the homeless issue in Austin through increasing the taxes paid by hotel guests. But how that money would be allocated is still unclear. The plan would add 1 percent to the hotel tax bill immediately and another 1 percent...
It’s residents’ turn to speak on Travis County bonds for roads, parks
It’s residents’ turn to speak on Travis County bonds for roads, parks

An advisory group has spent months looking at which Travis County road and park projects should be next in line for funding. Now it’s the public’s turn to weigh in. Travis County commissioners will have a public hearing at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Travis County Administration Building in the Commissioners Courtroom at 700 Lavaca St. to get...
Your A-to-Z guide to the media mayhem during President Trump’s first six months in office
Your A-to-Z guide to the media mayhem during President Trump’s first six months in office

The media has been the message for President Donald Trump almost every day of his presidency. And the message hasn't been warm and encouraging.   Trump's demonization of reporters and news organizations - fake news! failing media! failing fake news media! - has become as routine as a morning coffee. His supporters expect it, delight in it...
Trump DOJ gives Harley-Davidson $3 million discount on Obama-era pollution fine
Trump DOJ gives Harley-Davidson $3 million discount on Obama-era pollution fine

The Department of Justice announced on Thursday it had dropped a requirement that Harley-Davidson spend $3 million to fight air pollution as part of a settlement reached with the Obama Administration.   The Milwaukee-based company will remain responsible for $12 million in fines for selling illegal "Screaming Eagle" motorcycle tuners...
More Stories