If Austin will continue to be a world-class city with an enviable lifestyle and an abundance of opportunity, we’re going to have to get major, sustainable land development right — particularly for developments that will serve as community hubs for living, working and playing.
The significance and challenges of one such development, the Grove at Shoal Creek — the mixed-use development proposed for the 75 acres of open land near 45th Street and Bull Creek Road — have already been widely recognized. The Austin Monitor called the Grove “the single largest zoning challenge to face the city of Austin,” and the developer admits it is “the single largest urban infill project.” This complex development can only be successful through partnership between the developer, Austin City Council, and surrounding neighbors.
The Bull Creek Road Coalition represents the Grove’s neighbors in that partnership. Through their neighborhood associations, these neighbors — about 7,500 households in seven distinct neighborhoods — formed the Bull Creek Road Coalition to work with the developer and the city to make this development everything it should be: a shining mixed-use community for Austin that both fits into our existing neighborhoods and serves as their crowning centerpoint. Only by working together can we ensure that the Grove lives up to the potential of its location without causing major issues that will greatly decrease the quality of life for its new residents and existing neighbors.
And, as neighbors who know our neighborhoods and this land better than anyone, we have insights to share about how to do this. We should work together to ensure the amount of retail and — especially — office space that goes into this mixed-use development makes sense and integrates well with the neighborhoods and homes that have for decades stood next to the site. We should work together to ensure that affordable housing, something the coalition has long advocated, is interspersed throughout the development to integrate all residents — not concentrated in a particular area — with both rental units and family homes for sale.
We should work together to ensure Bull Creek Road, a two-lane neighborhood collector road, and its surrounding residential streets can accommodate the development without exacerbating Austin’s traffic problems. We should work together to ensure this development does not flood its downhill neighbors. Finally, we should work together to ensure the amount of usable park space — rather than land that is called park space but is unusable for recreation—is representative of the value Austin places on its outdoor community spaces.
Our concerns are intensified because, although the developer has promoted the development with a visual plan showing what it might be like when it is finished, the developer has not made the promises of that plan binding in its application with the city. Because the application allows room for significant deviation from the plan, there is no assurance that the Grove will be built to resemble the plan or that any of these issues will be resolved.
As neighbors, we accept that we have a responsibility to partner in this development, We’ve acted on that responsibility in an attempt to address these issues. Our latest effort was the creation of an alternative plan for the site very similar to the plan made by the developer but with a few modifications to address the many issues we foresee. Although the developer’s reaction to our alternative plan has been fairly dismissive, we still hope this can be a starting point for partnership in creating and building a truly shared vision.
So this is our invitation to our partners. Neighbors: find us at bcrcatx.org, tell us what you think, and get involved. To our City Council, especially Council Members Leslie Pool and Sheri Gallo, who represent our neighborhoods: We are counting on you to carry our voice and approve only a development worthy of all of our efforts.
And, perhaps most importantly, to the developer: Let’s have a relationship based on our mutual interests and the trust we build together. Please do not attempt to marginalize us by pointing to the approval of your “Friends,” a group whose very name indicates it was formed to support you. Instead, hear the voice of your new neighbors over the reflexive cheering of your surrogates — your booster group and paid PR campaign. We are here to help build the community we all aspire to have. The only way we do that is together.
Grayson M. Cox is the vice president of the Bull Creek Road Coalition.