Mayor Steve Adler said at the outset that the Austin City Council wouldn’t vote Thursday night on the Grove at Shoal Creek.
It was already 9:30 p.m. Nearly 200 people had signed up to speak, pushing any potential vote to the wee morning hours. And that, Adler said, wouldn’t be a good idea. Ultimately, the council agreed to delay any vote on the project until Oct. 20.
But that didn’t empty the packed chamber. Instead, the largely anti-Grove crowd sat through two hours of staff presentations about the project, offering boos, cheers and jeers. Then the anti-Grove organizers decided to come back another day. Even so, a dozen supporters and opponents of the project remained behind to share of a piece of their minds.
Supporters said the project — which would include 1,700 housing units and 360,000 square feet of office and retail space — would deliver much-needed affordable and market-rate housing to the city’s core. Opponents charged that the project, estimated to add 19,000 car trips a day to nearby roads, would flood their streets with traffic.
“The perfect is the enemy of the good; if you want perfection, you’re not going to get it,” said project supporter Susan Sharlot, who lives at the nearby Westminster retirement community. “The developer has made all of these good changes, and people just snicker at them.”
That was followed by a retort. “If and when those traffic goals are exceeded, then what happens to all of those cars?” 13-year-old Emie Salomy asked the council members around midnight. “It’s just not safe for the neighbors.”
Few projects have been as controversial as developer ARG Bull Creek’s plan for the mixed-use development on 75 acres near 45th Street and Bull Creek Road.
According to a city count Thursday, nearly 300 people either signed up to speak or left an opinion about the project with City Hall. Those opposed outnumbered those supporting the project by nearly 3 to 1 .
Evan Gill, a 27-year-old board member of the Friends of The Grove, said he supports the project because he sees it, and others like it, as a ticket to finally being able to afford his own place in the city.
Opponents, like Grant Clifton, an attorney, said he is worried about the traffic from the project. He slammed city officials for changing some of the findings made by staff engineers, which raised questions about ARG’s traffic plan. City officials defended their changes, which pushed consideration of certain traffic issues to later in the planning process.
Exchanges between council members, city brass and the developer’s representative Thursday night provided some insight into the contours of the smaller fights to come when the project returns in October.
For instance, Council Member Kathie Tovo suggested city staffers used questionable calculations to allow ARG Bull Creek to provide less affordable housing than would otherwise be required.
The developer has requested a special zoning designation that would allow it to build 2.4 million square feet, far more than the 1.9 million square feet that city staffers said would be allowed at the location using traditional zoning.
However, Tovo suggested that baseline number should be as low as 1.3 million square feet, pushing the project into a different planning bracket with potentially stricter affordable housing requirements. However, it was unclear late Thursday if those requirements would yield more affordable housing than ARG has already agreed to build.
Council Member Leslie Pool, who has long opposed the project as proposed, brought a stack of amendments that would downsize the development, primarily by cutting its planned retail and office space. Council Member Ann Kitchen suggested she would to propose changes as well.
The developer’s lobbyist, Jeff Howard, warned council members against accepting “extreme” changes to their plan. There ended up being no votes on Pool’s amendments Thursday night.