Dougherty Arts Center Relocation OK'd and Affordable Housing Program Gets Pushed Through at Council

And more notes from the May 9 City Council meeting

The current DAC building was constructed in 1947. (Courtesy City of Austin)

Affordable housing, climate change, and the Dougherty Arts Center took center stage at a mostly brisk City Council meeting Thursday (May 9). Our notes from City Hall ...

Moving the Dougherty: In an 8-2 vote (Greg Casar absent), City Council approved a resolution to relocate and rebuild the DAC from its current location on Barton Springs Road, near Auditorium Shores, to a potential site at Butler Shores along Toomey Road and Riverside Drive. The former U.S. Army Reserve facility that houses the DAC, constructed in 1947, has needed substantial improvements for years and sits in the floodplain; the 2018 arts and culture bond (Prop B) allocated $25 million for the design and construction of a new center at a new location.

Amendments by Council Member Ann Kitchen call for a “parking and transportation demand management strategy” for the new site; while any parking structure would need to be “innovative” and charge for use, the new DAC should minimize on-site parking and serve as a transit hub. Kitchen’s amendments also propose the

possible relocation of the Parks and Recreation Department’s headquarters, currently located at Butler Shores, if the PARD office cannot be incorporated into the new DAC, and created an advisory group to solicit community feedback throughout the design process, both from residents near the new site and citywide.

The two votes in opposition came from CMs Pio Renteria and Jimmy Flannigan. Both wanted to consider other locations throughout the city, and Renteria (along with Mayor Steve Adler), pushed to delay the vote to August, when Austin ISD may have alternate sites for the city to consider through its school closing plans. Flannigan’s concerns also included the amount of proposed on-site parking (potentially more than twice the current DAC’s supply), saying he could not “support anything that further restricts mobility.” He took issue with what he described as community input “locking in” decisions before they come to Council. (A survey of over 600 residents throughout the city found 54% of support for relocating the DAC to Butler Shores, and a similar percentage most concerned with parking.)

Climate Change: Council also approved two resolutions relating to future climate resiliency. The first tasks City Manager Spencer Cronk with recommending how to create a “comprehensive, community-wide climate resilience plan” by Aug. 22. Potential recommendations include employing a Chief Resilience Officer to craft the plan and hiring consultants; the resolution would also add Austin to the list of cities endorsing the Green New Deal. CM Natasha Harper-Madison wondered if creating a new officer position was wise considering the looming threat of revenue caps to be imposed by the Texas Legislature. She urged city staff to explore collaborations among existing agencies to avoid the creation of a new department.

Council also authorized Cronk to update the City of Austin Community Climate Plan with analysis on how the city can better integrate trends in vehicle electrification, notably a plan to transform the way electric vehicles integrate with the region’s electrical grid. The resolution’s author, CM Alison Alter, said this would look something like the city’s Nest thermostat program, which allows Austin Energy to prevent homes from drawing too much energy from HVAC units during peak hours. Similarly, AE would be able to manage home charging of EVs. The analysis would also include a plan for growing access to EVs for low-income families by including charging stations at multifamily housing complexes, as well as at other locations throughout the city.

Affordable Housing: Council unanimously adopted an ordinance to bring to life Casar’s “Affordability Unlocked” citywide density bonus program, with a bevy of amendments. Some of these aimed to clarify how the program would handle co-operative housing. CM Leslie Pool offered amendments that referred to co-ops as “sleeping units,” but Alter and Tovo expressed fear that developers would take advantage of that language, leading to what they called “stealth dorms.” Pool’s four amendments relating to co-ops passed 7-1-3, with Pool herself one of the abstaining votes. Casar also offered his own amendments to ensure that parking requirements for ADA-accessible spaces would not change from current code.

Other items of note: Council also approved issuance of $475 million in debt to purchase the Nacogdoches Generating Facility biomass plant in East Texas. The Pioneer Hill Apartments at 1420 Dessau Rd. were upzoned, but another contentions case for a mixed-use development near Manchaca Road was postponed to June 6.

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