Stratus Shrinks for Perks

With state law as its biggest bargaining chip, Stratus Properties has agreed to shrink its development plan for 1,253 acres of environmentally sensitive land as part of a tentative deal struck with the city. The agreement provides a new starting point from which to work toward a settlement, which would allow Stratus to move ahead on developing several tracts of land in Southwest Austin's Circle C community. The property has been an emotional hot-point for more than a decade, and the state's pendulum now rests in favor of developers, allowing many of them to build under older, less stringent environmental rules. Stratus, however, has agreed to build fewer homes and apartments, and considerably less retail and office space, in exchange for zoning variances and a $15 million subsidy package that includes fee waivers, tax abatements, and new infrastructure.

Negotiations began in earnest last year with a cross-section of stakeholders and Stratus Chief Executive Beau Armstrong pursuing the impossible dream: achieving environmental consensus. On Monday, the Save Our Springs board voted unanimously to oppose the proposed deal, arguing that the retail and office segment would create a job center, thus spurring demand for more housing. Opponents also believe the arrangement would benefit backers of the planned SH 45 South toll road, which would run from Southwest Austin to I-35 and eventually SH 130.

Other environmental leaders, while appreciative of the sweet investment, aren't yet willing to endorse the proposed agreement. "Some good work has been done, and is being done, but that's not the final document," said former SOS board member Mary Arnold. "And, of course, the attention is always in the details."

Says Stratus' Armstrong: "I think we have the support of some mainstream environmentalists, but if Bill Bunch had his way we'd be peeling up pavement and kicking everybody out of town. We have given up millions of dollars in value to bring peace to the valley. And, like it or not, we have property rights, so I hope we can negotiate from there."

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