Naked City

What Comes Next?

Lumbermen's Investment Corp.'s proposed 180-foot mixed-use condo project -- next to Seaholm Power Plant, on land that now holds the famously wandering Cedar Door bar -- was rejected 4-3 by the City Council last week. Just like the old days, right? Yet a lot of people who don't ordinarily bed down with developers supported the LIC project, mostly for its proposed synergies with reuse plans for Seaholm. LIC also just settled a boundary dispute with the city over the adjacent Sand Beach Reserve, which struck some neighborhood groups as an olive branch.

Tower supporters and opponents drenched the council in tidal waves of information -- ably marshaled for the opposition by Mary Arnold, the progressive movement's queen of detail. But the Lumbermen's battle really turned on one simple (and perhaps obvious) fact: Austinites don't like towers on Town Lake and never have, even though several already exist. So acknowledged Council Member Daryl Slusher: "If this is built here, I think a lot of our citizens are going to really dislike it and wish it hadn't been built. [Town Lake] is really the heart of our city. And I just can't vote to put a building that size there." Slusher joined Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman and Council Members Beverly Griffith and Danny Thomas (who originally tried to abstain) in turning LIC down.

All's not over yet. On half of the 4.5-acre tract, Lumbermen's has existing zoning that would allow an even taller 220-foot tower even closer to the lake. And under state law, the city might have to honor an active site plan from 1984 that would permit LIC to build a 15-story tower and nine-story parking garage on its property.

So why did Lumbermen's go through the trouble of making a new proposal? For one thing, building that 1984 project is a lot easier said than done. For another, the market for an office tower -- what that site plan was for -- is even lousier right now than for luxurious condos on the lake. Whether we'll see 220 feet of anything rising from the riverbank is unclear, which gives Arnold and other LIC opponents reason to renew their decades-old call for the city to acquire the tract for parkland. It could happen ...

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Lumbermen's Investment Corp., Seaholm Power Plant, Cedar Door, Town Lake, Mary Arnold, Daryl Slusher, Jackie Goodman, Beverly Griffith, Danny Thomas

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