Naked City

Council Notes: Seaholm to TOD

Last week's City Council session had its usual quotient of contract and zoning arcana, but also featured dazzling multimedia presentations by the three development groups – Endeavor Real Estate Group/AMLI Residential Properties Trust, Zydeco Development, and Stratus Properties – proposing to buy from the city Downtown Block 21, on Second Street directly north of City Hall. The proposals feature varying combinations of residential, retail, and entertainment space, as well as prospective venues for a local "cultural institution" (e.g., KLRU or the proposed Texas Music Hall of Fame), and range in initial bid from $9 million to $15 million (Stratus), with some wiggle room over incentives. The council will consider the proposals (including public hearings beginning in March) over the next several weeks before making a decision.

Today's meeting (Thursday) features more of the same, with several groups presenting proposals for developing the Seaholm Power Plant property on Cesar Chavez – a project likely to be more complex than the Second Street site (and still deliver great visuals). The two projects together could transform that section of Downtown – and they reverberate with other news at the council, a briefing that sales tax receipts continue to meet or exceed projections, permitting the council to hope that this year's budget meetings will be less astringent than the last two years.

Other less happy matters include a couple of zoning battles that could take the meeting well into the wee hours. The I-35/Brandt Road case involves a tract of state land about to be sold for a Ford Lincoln Mercury dealership – the Onion Creek Neighborhood Association has been trying to get agreement on a package of restrictive covenants, but the deal seemed on the verge of collapse last week. And unless it's postponed, another heated exchange could ensue on the Gables Residential proposal for St. Stephen's land on Highway 360 at Westlake Boulevard, opposed by the Bunny Run Neighborhood Association (see p.20). And last week's late-night debate concerned a historic zoning case in the Old West Austin neighborhood (609 West Lynn), ending with the new property owner (who wants to demolish the house) so angry at his prospective new neighbors (who want to preserve it, at his expense) that he says he no longer wants to live there. Postponed to this week, with fingers crossed.

The council will likely set a public hearing on new design standards for commercial and retail development and begin the process for assembling a citizen's bond committee announced a few weeks ago by Mayor Wynn. Also on the agenda is consideration of a contract to buy another 90 Tasers for the Austin Police Department – in light of recent Taser controversies (here and elsewhere), this item may get more scrutiny than anticipated (see p.22). And several El Concilio members are signed up to raise sand against the pending Transit-Oriented Development Ordinance – Joe Quintero's registration reads, "The legacy and history of Council Member Raul Alvarez on the Austin City Council will be that of assisting Anglo Liberal Council [to] accelerate the gentrification and displacement of poor Mexican-American Homeowners from their homes in East Austin." And a very good day to you, too.

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Block 21, City Council, Seaholm, Brandt Road, Gables Residential, Tasers, Raul Alvarez

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