Naked City

Condos, Charter on E. Sixth?

Sixth Street in East Austin may soon become a quite busy construction zone. Architect Richard deVarga and Larry Warshaw, ex-Mayor Kirk Watson's former chief of staff, have announced plans for a mixed-use "live-work" project at Pedernales and East Sixth, while a few blocks west at Robert Martinez Street is the proposed site of UT's new charter school.

The deVarga/Warshaw project's 81 condos and 24 work studios would be aimed at city-center creative-class types in need of affordable -- sorry, "reasonably priced" -- digs under the city's SMART Housing program. "Send me your overly educated and underpaid," deVarga told the Statesman. Downtown booster and landowner Perry Lorenz, a financial partner in the project, is buying the long-vacant land (and is exploring acquiring other nearby tracts) from Union Pacific. Lorenz says he's already spent "at least six figures" doing environmental assessment of the site, long assumed by many Eastsiders to be contaminated, and has only found minor problems. Under the recently adopted Holly Neighborhood Plan, the Pedernales Street property already has the mixed-use zoning it would need, and according to Lorenz, neighborhood leaders in El Concilio have so far expressed support for the project.

Some neighbors, though -- along with Austin ISD officials at all levels -- are not happy about UT's charter-school plans, fearing the campus would siphon students and money away from precisely the lower-income, majority-minority Eastside campuses that need help, and not competition, from UT's education experts. The university, for its part, says Austin ISD's proposal that UT open its charter campus in northwest or southwest Austin, where the district's schools are seriously overcrowded, wouldn't help it serve African-American and Latino families. The State Board of Education should vote on UT's application Nov. 15.

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