Colony Park could bounce back with planned development


The city is moving ahead with the development of 208 acres of Colony Park in far East Austin.

The area would be a mixed-use, master-planned neighborhood offering much-needed amenities.

Council Member Ora Houston lauded the project as a step forward for the neighborhood.

When Barbara Scott first moved to Colony Park 43 years ago, it was a working-class neighborhood full of active-duty troops and veterans.

But everything changed when Bergstrom Air Force Base closed in 1993. Many of the residents of the far East Austin neighborhood near Walter E. Long Lake who were in the military found themselves forced to sell their homes, Scott said. In their place, many houses became rental properties that she said are owned by absentee landlords who have let many of the homes become dilapidated.

But Scott is pinning her hopes for a neighborhood turnaround on the development of about 208 acres of land owned by the city of Austin. Plans show visions of a mixed-used, mixed-income development sprinkled with single-family homes, park space, a medical clinic and a rail station.

“We are hoping that this development could pull our neighborhood together,” said Scott, who is president of the Colony Park Neighborhood Association.

This month, the city put out a call to developers to submit qualifications for developing the land that lies off of Loyola Lane, about midway between U.S. 183 and the Texas 130 toll road. A master plan for that stretch of land shows a development that would unite the old Colony Park neighborhood on the west with the neighborhood known as Lakeside on the east.

The city has already cut out 50 acres of the original tract for a regional park. Another part of the land was used for the Turner-Roberts Recreation Center and Overton Elementary School.

What is left is a gentle valley of grassland shaped like the number seven that looks up at the school and recreation center.

The city bought the Colony Park tract in 2001 for $3 million. The land had been slated for manufactured homes. But, except for the elementary school and recreational center, the land has sat undeveloped since then.

Things changed in 2013, when the city won a $3 million grant from the federal government to develop a proposal for a master-planned neighborhood. Though not of the same scope as the Mueller development in East Austin, the city is selling the project as a sea change for a neighborhood that might seem far-flung from downtown but sits right along two major transportation arteries.

Planners envision a future for Colony Park that could bring much-needed business development in multiuse developments, with restaurants and other ground floor retail being added to the job-starved area.

The city is in talks with Central Health to set aside 5 acres on the southern end of the neighborhood for a health clinic. The northern end could be home to a rail station along Capital Metro’s proposed Elgin-to-downtown “Green Line,” plans showed.

City Council Member Ora Houston said the importance of the Colony Park development is that it relied heavily on the input of neighborhood residents like Scott who became intricately involved in the process once the grant program was announced.

“That is what is wonderful about this development. It is not about what I want or what the city wants, it is about what a very diverse and inclusive community wants,” Houston said. “They spent years listening and collaborating with each other to identify the quality of life measures that are missing on the east side of the ‘urban core.’ Those attributes will be found in the development.”

At a recent meeting attended by about 40 developers, city staffers laid out a vision of a dense mixed-use neighborhood with green infrastructure. The city estimated in its master plan that the development would add 3,031 housing units to Colony Park, with about one-third being single-family homes. It would also create about 1 million square feet of commercial development.

Ahead for the Colony Park project is a Dec. 21 deadline for developers to submit qualifications for the first phase of the plan. In January, the city will announce a short list of finalists who will have until June to submit proposals. The site’s master developer should be selected next summer, city staffers said.

For Scott, it seems like a sudden change to the decades of inactivity to the tract.

“It’s been a long time coming, and I think it is moving a little faster than I thought it would move,” Scott said.

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