Point Austin: Beside the Point

Spring Isn't All Sunshine

Point Austin
Birds are chirping, the sun is shining – Spring is in the air at city hall. Well, maybe not so much sunshine – with the Spring Condominium project finally slated for zoning today after weeks of delay, neighborhood types are concerned council will simply rubber stamp the planned residential tower, set for construction at Third and Bowie. Jeff Jack, president of the Zilker Neighborhood Association, and longtime bee in the Downtown development crowd's bonnet, shared with Beside the Point "several different areas of concern" he has.

First is skepticism of the zoning recommendation that Spring emerged with following its lengthy stint in Zoning and Platting purgatory. It's currently zoned DMU – downtown mixed use – but Spring co-developer Perry Lorenz (coincidentally, chair of the city's Downtown Commission) is seeking a zoning change to DMU-CURE. That's a Central Urban Redevelopment overlay, which seeks to "provide flexibility and incentives for development" in Downtown and the near Eastside. DMU zoning has previously served as a transitional zone between high and low-density zoning, and Jack says "the idea of a transitional buffer is destroyed" with Spring, which has greater density than the downtown core itself.

How the CURE is applied also troubles him. "The highest additional height ever granted [with CURE zoning] was 16 feet [above original base zoning]," he said. Spring could soar as high as 350-400 feet, well above the currently allowed 120 feet. "It's a complete wipeout of base zoning." Also, CURE zoning considers proximity to major travel routes. And although Spring is right next to the planned Seaholm Transit-Oriented Development district, Jack said, "we don't zone on the hope transportation will be available 10 years from now."

On a more down-to-earth level, Jack sees the stability of his Zilker neighborhood threatened by rising costs. Spring's cost per square foot will be more in line with the downtown rate of $350, than with the edges of the Central Business District (around $100) or Lamar (around $50). Jack considers Spring out of step with affordable housing in Austin, noting that only a handful of the condos start in the $200K range. ("My guess is they'll be on the bottom floor by the train tracks.") Nor does he buy the argument that development projects add dollars to the tax rolls that wouldn't be there otherwise. "They're going to be paying property tax somewhere or another." And lastly, he's troubled by Spring's proximity to the lakefront, saying "it will be a hulking mass over the Town Lake corridor," and used as precedent by other developments, like the Gables project across the street.

Spring's time in the sun is scheduled toward the end of an obscenely long zoning hearing, starting at 4pm. The building bug is going around on the dais, as council considers several development-related items. In closed session, they'll consider how best to diminish and relocate billboards from residential neighborhoods. Briefings at 2pm include an update on the former Robert Mueller Airport, and on the possible move of Downtown's Green Water Treatment Plant. New amendments to the city's design standards, the pet project of Brewster McCracken, will be unveiled as Item 46, dealing with, ironically enough, removing barriers for developers building vertical mixed-use projects. With this crowded agenda, the last council meeting of the month, the sky's the limit.

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downtown development, Spring condominiums, Zilker neighborhood association, Perry Lorenz, Jeff Jack, downtown zoning, Brewster McCracken, Gables condominiums, Town Lake development, Robert Mueller Airport, Green Water Treatment Plant

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