Austin City Council OKs contentious apartment project on Burnet Road


One of the first zoning cases handled by the new Austin City Council has finally come to an end, after a failed last-ditch attempt to hit the brakes.

The council, in its third time hearing the case, gave final approval Thursday for the highest-density multi-family zoning that will allow a developer to build up to 300 high-end apartments along fast-changing Burnet Road near U.S. 183. The property is currently occupied by Gordon Automotive.

The case highlighted the council’s unwillingness to defer to Council Member Leslie Pool, whose North Austin’s District 7 contains the property, as members rejected her suggested zoning on three separate occasions.

It also exposed a split between representatives who emphasized neighborhood concerns and those who spoke of density as a way to breathe some relief into the city’s tight and unaffordable housing supply.

Pool proposed postponing the case so the council could consider an entirely different type of zoning: commercial zoning with an overlay that would allow the developer to take advantage of a city program that provides bonuses, such as additional density and lighter parking requirements, in exchange for providing affordable housing.

The developer would also have to provide what Pool called a “community benefit” in the form of ground-floor retail or restaurants. Under that scenario, the developer might be able to build around 225 or fewer units, city planning manager Jerry Rusthoven said.

That zoning would provide more certainty that the development includes affordable housing, and that housing could be accessible to those making 60 percent of the area’s median family income, Pool said.

The developer proposed making 15 percent of the units affordable to those making 80 percent of the area’s median family income, but no requirement was included in the zoning.

Council Member Sheri Gallo said the project proposed by the developer would address affordability by offering apartments below market rent — and by filling a demand for modern housing in an area filled with older units.

“As we can produce more supply to meet the demand, then the market rate affordability improves, and that is what this project will do, absolutely,” Gallo said.

After Pool’s proposal died on a narrow vote, she and Council Members Kathie Tovo, Ann Kitchen and Ora Houston voted against the multi-family zoning the developer was seeking.

“I was very disappointed … to see that they were not able to come to some kind of middle ground, recognizing and respecting that neighbors have rights too,” Houston said.


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