Tensions rise as Grove development gets support from city planners

Ryder and Cat Caroom Jeanes bought their home a decade ago on West 45th Street, in the middle of a row of houses backing up to a large, grassy field.

In short order their property might become a corner lot.

As part of its proposal for the Grove at Shoal Creek, a developer plans to raze the house next door for an access road to the proposed 75-acre mixed use development. Ryder Jeanes heard the idea for that road floated last year, after ARG Bull Creek Ltd. bought that neighboring home, but he thought it had died in the city bureaucracy.

Not so. Austin city staffers and officials with ARG, as part of a tentative agreement reached March 22, decided that the house would go and a 20-foot-wide extension of Jackson Avenue will take its place. Jeanes found out Monday.

“I don’t believe this should come at the expense of my family’s safety, the diminution of my property value or my quality of life. I could go on and on,” Jeanes said. “A layman understands why they don’t want a road next to their house.”

A commercial developer himself, Jeanes said he hopes to see ARG Bull Creek and the neighborhood find a middle ground for the Grove. Any plans will ultimately need the City Council’s approval.

The intensity of the proposed $500 million development on what is now 75 acres of mostly green space, along with questions about how the deal was reached, inflamed opposition this week from at least some neighbors of the project. But officials with the city and ARG Bull Creek defended the process and said the traffic impacts are being overstated by people who would oppose all but the lightest development on the tract along Bull Creek Road.

“People don’t go to projects that have bad traffic,” said Garrett Martin, ARG Bull Creek’s president and CEO. “We’re committed to doing it right, and we’ve been through a very long, extensive process with the city.”

Turn lanes ahead

Under the tentative agreement reached with city planners, the Grove would generate up to 19,000 additional daily car trips on nearby roads. Martin contends that the official estimate of added daily car trips is overstated by 50 percent because of conservative assumptions demanded by city staff.

As part of the plan, the developer has agreed to make various transportation improvements costing an estimated $2.9 million, including left turn and right turn lanes at the West 45th/Bull Creek intersection. ARG and its traffic consultants say those improvements will cut peak hour wait times at the traffic light almost in half, to about 37 seconds, even with the added demand from 1,300 new homes, condos and apartments, 375,000 square feet of office and retail space, and a 600-bed assisted living center for seniors.

About a quarter of the property will be park land and open space, much of it on the eastern section that slopes down to Shoal Creek.

The intersection improvements at West 45th would be built in the first phase of the project, by 2018, and by at least 2024 Bull Creek Road to the south would be widened from its current two lanes to allow for turn lanes at Jackson Avenue and at entry drives into the project. In time there could be a traffic light at Bull Creek and Jackson.

ARG and city planning and transportation managers, in a meeting March 22, worked through the final issues about the “planned unit development,” both parties say. But the development’s design, including the expansion of the intersection at West 45th and the new section of Jackson Avenue that would run by the Jeanes’ home, will be subject to review by two city commissions in the coming months.

The City Council could make the final decision as early as June.

Was process cut short?

The development has been a point of tension between Council Member Sheri Gallo, whose District 10 includes the former Texas Department of Transportation tract, and Council Member Leslie Pool, whose District 7 begins just across West 45th. Pool was a founding member of the Bull Creek Road Coalition, which has been steadfast in its opposition to what ARG has in mind.

Pool said the current design isn’t what it could have become if the review hadn’t been “truncated.”

Chris Allen, who lives in the Rosedale neighborhood east of Bull Creek, sent an email to his neighbors Monday saying that the city managers who met with the Grove developer March 22 came to an agreement about the proposed design without including the lower-level staffers who review traffic analyses.

“Our line review staff were told to finish up and turn in their notes,” said Pool, who looked into Allen’s allegations. “My question is, why was the process stopped? And because the community knows this happened, a project that was already controversial, that was just ratcheted up.”

Andy Linseisen, managing engineer of land use review for the city’s Development Services Department, said managers often get involved in a project of the Grove’s scope.

“This is publicly debated by multiple neighborhood groups, council, the developer and others,” Linseisen said. “It’s a big deal for the city, and so having management support before staff comments go out … is not unusual.”

Gallo declined to take an official position, citing the possibility of further changes as the design goes through the commissions. But she said criticism of the process is misplaced, and she praised ARG for agreeing to make the intersection changes up front.

“It sounds like the intersection will be better,” Gallo said. “It’s apparent that there are people who are very sad that (the property) is not continuing with the use that it has been. … I hope that people understand it can’t be what it was.”

Neighbors ‘want something good’

Understanding was in short supply this week, at least along busy West 45th, where most of the homes backing up to the development have Bull Creek Road Coalition signs in their narrow front yards.

While the developer’s July drawings included a rendering of Jackson Avenue extending to West 45th, past the Jeanes’ home, the road wasn’t added to the developer’s traffic impact analysis until earlier this year. The connection would relieve some of the pressure on Bull Creek Road and also provide another access point to the development for emergency vehicles, said Eric Bollich, a managing engineer in the city’s Transportation Department.

Several homes along West 45th, both east and west of Bull Creek, will end up closer to the main road as well. The city and ARG will use several feet of city-owned right of way to widen West 45th by about 10 feet in that section.

“Is that right? Is that fair?” Pool asked. “That strikes me as extremely unsafe.”

Philip Courtois, who has lived on 45th Street since 2013 with his wife and their son, expects to lose part of his driveway and yard. He hopes that won’t jeopardize his old pecan tree.

Courtois said he’s excited by the prospect of retail, such as cafes or bookstores, being built at the Bull Creek tract within walking and biking distance of his home. He’s not so excited by the inclusion of 225,000 square feet of offices and the added traffic on West 45th, which he fears will make it harder to get in and out of his driveway.

“Most people are pretty open to the idea of development (on the tract), and they want something good there,” Courtois said. “I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t want anything built back in that area.”

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