Pushing Skyward on West Seventh

Another supertall condominium tower seeks to push envelope of what Austin accepts as Downtown

Heading toward a vote at council Feb. 1 or 15 is another supertall condominium tower that seeks to push the envelope of what Austin accepts as Downtown. This test-case project – a 32-story, 158-unit luxury condo tower at the southeast corner of West Seventh and Rio Grande (right behind Katz's Deli) – is proposed by Dallas-based CLB Partners, whose other local condo projects include Austin City Lofts and Bridges on the Park. Because Seventh and Rio Grande sits in an historic neighborhood of small homes and low-rise storefronts, just north of the traditional dividing line of West Sixth, the council's decision on this project is being closely watched as an indicator of project approvals or denials to come.

The last such lightning-rod project was Spring Condominiums – a 41-story tower on Third Street (between Lamar and Bowie) now starting construction, which won its needed zoning change at council over vociferous neighborhood objections.

According to a representative for property owner Mike McGinnis, the CLB Seventh and Rio Grande project has a widespread base of supporters; they include the Downtown Austin Alliance and three neighborhood associations: Downtown Austin, Caswell Heights, and Old Austin (aka Tedd Siff). They point out that the site is within the core Downtown area defined by the Downtown Design Guidelines, is surrounded on three sides by Central Business District zoning (although historic designations and Capitol view corridors counteract most of that), and will feature ground-floor retail and Great Streets Program pedestrian amenities.

Despite those arguments – and the deal-brokering savvy of attorney Steve Drenner and consultant Mike Blizzard – the developers lost their request for Central Business District (CBD-CURE) upzoning at the Planning Commission, five to two. Instead, the commissioners recommended rezoning the property Downtown Mixed Use (which would permit a 120-foot condo project similar to the Nokonah). Will council follow their recommendation or overrule it?

Opponents to the 400-foot-tall project – which include the nearby Austin Women's Club, the Old West Austin Neighborhood Association, and the Heritage Society – believe the huge tower is inappropriate right next to the historic-zoned Bremond Block, an area the city has worked to protect. They object to having the project front Seventh Street rather than Sixth Street, which is a designated transit corridor. And they're concerned that CBD-CURE zoning here will set a precedent for another condo tower (by the Spring development team) possibly shaping up for the northeast corner of the same intersection.

Most compellingly, said Katherine Jones of neighboring Milkshake Media, the coalition that opposes immediate granting of high-rise CBD-CURE zoning for the site is asking council not to make this ad-hoc decision until ROMA Design Group completes the new Downtown Plan. Due by year's end, the plan will provide detailed, carefully researched recommendations for revised Central Business District boundaries and this historic northwest quarter of Downtown. Since Austinites will pay close to $1 million for the Downtown Plan, why not wait to see what it says?

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downtown development, condominium tower, CLB Partners, Mike McGinnis, the CLB Seventh and Rio Grande project has a widespread base of supporters; they include the Downtown Austin Alliance, Downtown Design Guidelines, Bremond Block

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