More than three years after announcing plans for a $500 million mixed-use project in Central Austin, the developers of the Grove say they are hopeful they are about to clear the final regulatory hurdle needed to allow construction to start on the development.
The project — on a 75-acre site bounded by Bull Creek Road, 45th Street and Shoal Creek — is ready to break ground pending a final green light from the city of Austin’s Zoning and Platting Commission, said Garrett Martin, co-owner of ARG Bull Creek Ltd., the Grove’s developer. ARG Bull Creek Ltd. bought the land from the Texas Department of Transportation for almost $47 million in December 2014.
The project’s zoning allows for 1,550 single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and luxury apartments. Along with housing, the project will have shopping, dining and entertainment options and 20 acres of parkland throughout the project. A “grocery of some size” is also contemplated, Martin said.
The Grove won approval for a planned unit development, or PUD zoning, in December 2016, after a nearly two-year process that drew opposition from some surrounding neighborhoods, although it was supported by new urbanist groups.
Developers have been waiting for the Zoning and Platting Commission to sign off on the preliminary plan for the project, which shows the overall layout of streets and lots, along with land uses and drainage plans. The commission is scheduled to take up the case again on Tuesday.
Martin and Jeff Howard, attorney for the developer, have been critical of what they say has been an unusual delay in the city review process.
The plan was submitted to the city in October of 2016, and it meets all applicable city regulations and should have been approved by now, Martin and Howard said.
At the Zoning and Platting Commission’s April 3 meeting, Howard said the plan has been thoroughly vetted by city staff members. Howard told the commission that the 16-month review has been “probably three times as long for a review of a preliminary plan as you see in a typical situation.”
“This is just lines on a map… it doesn’t authorize us to construct anything,” Howard told the commission. “We believe there’s been an incredibly thorough, detailed, lengthy review, and the time has come to approve this preliminary plan ”
Some residents who live near the planned project, as well as Commissioner Ann Denkler, cited what they say are a number of unresolved issues. Denkler said she felt city staff had incorrectly approved the preliminary plan.
“I want the preliminary plan to be done right,” Denkler said.
Martin said each delay adds to the cost of the project. Martin said the latest delay could have been prevented had a public hearing been opened up for five minutes of questions and answers with the city staff who were all in attendance.
“Assertions were made from the dais that were factually incorrect and designed to cause nothing but delay,” Martin said. He said he hopes that “commissioners do the right thing and adhere to their legal obligations and their obligations to the community, which is suffering from a lack of housing.”
V. Bruce Evans, a member of the Zoning and Platting commission, said that “postponing a decision based on ‘concerns’ seems to me disingenuous and only serves to add to the cost of the project.”
“This project was approved by (City Council) in December 2016,” Evans said via email. “Carrying costs on a project of this magnitude are considerable and the delays being experienced only serve to increase these costs. And these costs are not and cannot be absorbed; they are passed on to the buyers, renters and tenants and will also impact the… affordable units in the project.”
City Planning Officer David Wahlgren said the Grove approval process “has has taken longer than average, but then again PUDs are more complicated than normal development.”
Along with a vote on the preliminary plan, the commission is scheduled to vote Tuesday on the final plat, which has a bit more detail than the preliminary plan, Wahlgren said. The commission has the final approval on both applications, Wahlgren said.
Once approved, the plat will be recorded with the Travis County Clerk’s office, giving the site legal lots that can be sold.
The Grove’s plans call for 32 single-family homes, 305 townhomes and 72 condominiums. Prices are expected to start in the $400,000 range for a condominium with 900 square feet to $1.6 million for a single-family house with 4,400 square feet, Martin said.
In addition, the project calls for 194 units of more moderately priced housing. Those units will be in the $200,000 to $230,000 range, which Martin said is intended for teachers, firefighters, police officers and employees who work for non-profits.
“It’s going to be a very diverse project,” Martin said.
By month’s end, ARG will open a sales center called the Grove Store at 1818 W. 35th St. The center will have interactive screens showcasing seven home designs ranging from modern farmhouse to classic brownstone, and many will have rooftop decks. Prospective buyers will be able to digitally walk through each of the floor plans and see the elevations and locations of the future home sites.