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Taco Tower Project on Council's Plate

The Taco PUD wins divided blessing of Planning Commission

By Elizabeth Pagano, Fri., June 21, 2013

A 96-foot condo may replace this Taco Cabana at Lamar and Riverside.
A 96-foot condo may replace this Taco Cabana at Lamar and Riverside.
Photo by Jana Birchum

After about two months of postponements, the Taco PUD finally won a round last week.

Previously, the city's Environmental Board failed to recommend the environmental aspects of the proposed Planned Unit Devel­op­ment at 211 S. Lamar, currently occupied by a Taco Cabana, and the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board has rejected it outright. Additionally, Zilker and Bouldin Creek neighborhood associations, Save Town Lake, the Zach Theatre Board of Trustees' Executive Committee, and the adjacent Bridges on the Park Condominium Associa­tion have all taken a stand against the project.

Though the opposition was out in force at last week's Planning Commission meeting, commissioners nevertheless voted 5-3 to recommend a zoning change that would allow developers Post Paggi to increase the height of its planned condo project to 96-feet. Several commissioners took the time to argue that the added density at Riverside and Lamar was not only a good fit – it was exactly what the city needs, with an increase in population interested in living Downtown and a limited amount of space for people to live. Commissioners Danette Chimenti, Myron Smith, and Jean Stevens voted against the zoning change, and Chair Dave Anderson was absent.

At times, the project has functioned as a lightning rod for all of the developmental anxiety in the city – with the opposition targeting everything from an undue increase in traffic to disruption of the lake's shoreline. Last month, a postponement was granted to opponents concerned about the impact on the historic Paggi House. And the case was at the heart of City Council's decision, at its previous meeting, to take a closer look at the affordable housing calculations for PUDs.

Developers note that, in exchange for the benefit of added height from the zoning change, they are offering a selection of community benefits that include saving trees, providing retail and restaurants on the ground floor, water quality controls, a public plaza, and space for a bike share program. Developers will also be required to provide a certain amount of affordable housing, or pay a $430,000 fee in lieu to the city's affordable housing fund, though that determination will ultimately be up to Council.

At the Planning Commission meeting, condominium owners at the Bridges on the Park, who oppose the zoning change, said they were expecting a project on the lot, and were looking forward to what they anticipated would be a 60-foot tall building. Many expressed anger at what they saw as a false choice between a beautiful 96-foot tall building and an inferior 60-foot project. In a flourish, Bridges resident Jim Martino said they were being asked to choose between a "full-scale lunch for 20 and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that had been left in a car for a week." He explained that they just wanted something in between.

When it came time for developer attorney Steve Drenner to speak, he seemed exasperated, saying the case was evidence that development is never easy in Austin. He detailed talks with the neighborhood association, which he knew would not result in support, an increasing list of requirements from the condominium association that was never satisfied, and the fruitless year-and-a-half spent waiting for the Waterfront Planning Advisory Board to finish an ordinance that could have allowed them to forgo the zoning case in the first place. Of course, that didn't happen, and City Council is currently scheduled to hear the case today, June 20.

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