Developer, neighborhood group reach deal on the Grove at Shoal Creek

After a months-long battle, the developer of the Grove at Shoal Creek and a group representing many of the surrounding neighborhoods have reached a deal that will allow the project to move forward.

The deal, announced Monday, is a turning point in the two-year political drama over the 75-acre site at 45th Street and Bull Creek Road, one of the few big, mostly vacant parcels left in the central city.

The developer, ARG Bull Creek, agreed to increase by 25 percent the number of units that would be affordable while trimming back the amount of office and commercial space. In exchange for the concessions, the Bull Creek Road Coalition, which had led the opposition to the project, agreed to stand down.

The deal, which grew from nearly two months of mediation between the two parties, will be presented to the City Council on Tuesday during a previously scheduled special meeting about the project. A council vote on the project is not expected until Dec. 15 at the earliest.

“We’re very proud of the work we’ve done, and we’re very, very grateful to the Bull Creek Road Coalition board for their diligence, hard work and effort,” Jeff Howard, the attorney for ARG, said at a news conference Monday afternoon at City Hall.

He added: “Honestly, I will say, going in, we were not that optimistic. But I think it’s a credit to the hard work of both the neighborhood and the owner to roll up their sleeves and get to work and stay at it and not give up until an agreement was hammered out.”

The reductions in the commercial development were far less than the neighborhoods initially sought.

“It’s certainly not what we had in mind, but I think it’s the best we can get,” said Sara Speights, president of the coalition.

Under the agreement:

  • ARG would be able to build up to 1,515 residential units, with a 25 percent increase in the number of affordable units. Howard said the developer projected that it would probably build 1,335 units at the market rate and 138 that would be affordably priced.
  • The commercial development would be trimmed from the original request of 360,000 square feet to 325,000 square feet. The largest store would be no larger than 35,000 square feet.
  • The height of buildings built alongside the Oakmont Heights neighborhood would be limited to 35 feet.
  • ARG agreed to abandon plans to extend Jackson Avenue to 45th Street, which would have required the demolition of two homes.

ARG said Monday that it hopes to break ground on the new project late next year.

Before the deal, ARG’s proposal for the vast tract once owned by the state was vigorously opposed by the surrounding neighborhoods, which feared its traffic would inundate their streets and said the size and scale of the project didn’t fit their area, with its decades-old single-family homes.

The coalition’s campaign against the project focused largely on attempting to slash the amount of commercial space, saying that would dramatically reduce the traffic, which they argued city officials underestimated. Their worries were buttressed by an American-Statesman investigation that found city officials downplayed or postponed addressing concerns from their frontline engineers about the traffic the site would bring.

However, Monday’s deal includes far more commercial space than the coalition wanted. The group, co-founded by District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool before her 2014 election, pushed to cut the size of the commercial development by more than a third — to about 225,000 square feet. That limit was included in the initial “place-holder” resolution approved by the City Council in October, which Mayor Steve Adler described as an attempt to cajole the parties to the table.

That led to the nearly two-month mediation, in which the commercial square footage entitlements became a currency of sorts as the two sides hammered out a bargain.

“When we went into mediation, that was the only thing we had to trade,” said Grayson Cox, of the coalition. “It was a very strange situation.”

In exchange for restoring much of the commercial square footage, Cox said, ARG will pay for traffic, sidewalk and drainage improvements in surrounding neighborhoods and eliminate the Jackson extension to 45th Street. It was unclear what effect that would have on traffic.

The high-profile development became a critical issue in two City Council races. Gallo, who has backed the project, faces a critic of it, Alison Alter, in the Dec. 13 runoff.

“The developer has known from the very beginning that I would not support their proposal unless they could get closer to what neighborhood felt was appropriate for the site,” Gallo said in a statement. “I applaud the willingness of the neighborhood and developer to work together and resolve their differences in a positive way.”

Pool, an opponent of the project, beat a challenge in last month’s election from a vocal supporter of the project, Natalie Gauldin.

“We’ve gone a great distance, in accommodating what the neighbors are needing, recognizing the imbalance of power for them,” said Pool. “I’m really happy.”

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