It’s been 20 years, so what’s another two weeks?
That’s what the Austin City Council decided on Thursday about the controversial plans to develop a swath of Northwest Austin known as the Champion tract.
The council once again delayed a vote on the tract, located near RM 2222 and Loop 360, after the city’s environmental officer provided new data late Wednesday to the council and concerned residents, providing more information about the amount of development possible under a 1996 settlement and the proposed agreement. The information addressed concerns that Council Member Alison Alter brought up at the Tuesday council work session.
After the vote, Alter, who has said she will vote against the agreement, addressed the dozens of residents who brought signs and spoke against developing the tract.
“I’m with you and I’m with the environment,” said Alter, who represents District 10, where the property is located.
The council actually approved the agreement in November 2016, only to have a judge nix it last year after ruling that the city had not provided adequate public notice on what the item entailed. The agreement would allow a multifamily development of about 300 housing units.
In addressing the council, Mayor Steve Adler laid out a Cliff’s Notes version of what has happened over the past two decades with the Champion Tract, which is officially listed at 6409 City Park Road.
The saga began with a state law in the 1990s that grandfathered the Champion tract into more developer friendly zoning. That led to a 1996 lawsuit settlement with the city that set it for general office zoning.
The site had laid dormant, but in 2016, a developer came forward who wanted to turn the land into multifamily housing. That would require a change in use and would trigger the city’s current and much more restrictive zoning to take precedent on the tract.
However, the city entered into a less restrictive agreement when faced with a choice between the far more environmentally destructive 1996 agreement and the current code.
With the agreement in place, the new developer Slate Real Estate bought the land from the Champion sisters and began spending money to develop it. Slate partner Mark Stevenson said the company had already spent more than $2 million on the project when the court order undid its ability to build anything.
Because the city erred in how the Champion tract council item was posted in 2016, and the developer began spending money on the project believing it was in the clear, not approving the agreement now could open the city to litigation.
Adler said he would foresee a lawsuit, and Stevenson made sure to mention that “damages” caused by the agreement not moving forward would be “10 times or more” the $2 million that Slate has already spent.
“This is a hard case,” Adler said. “More than anything else in this case, I am sick that once again it is about what the state does to a community that tries to put its values in its ordinances and in its resolutions.”
In other news
The council unanimously approved the contract for incoming city manager Spencer Cronk, including a $325,000 salary, a $600 monthly “executive allowance,” a $4,500 monthly stipend for temporary housing during the first six months of employment and $1,845 a year for a cell phone. Cronk, who is wrapping up his tenure as Minneapolis city coordinator, is expected to start at Austin City Hall on Feb. 12.