The Austin Chronicle

Seaholm East

What future for Green?

By Katherine Gregor, January 25, 2008, News

In anticipation of issuing requests for proposals from development teams in February, City Council has drafted a resolution establishing its "guiding vision and policy principles" for two large city-owned tracts of land in the Seaholm east redevelopment district: 1) the 4.5-acre site of the decommissioned Green Water Treatment Plant and 2) neighboring parcels that house Austin Energy structures. The resolution officially reserves the south substation site, which faces Lady Bird Lake, for a new central public library.

The resolution reiterates relevant council policy and goals, including: Downtown revitalization, the Downtown master plan, completing the Second Street retail corridor, and connecting to Seaholm proper. For the library site, the resolution specifies a stand-alone building, an analysis of best-practice design and construction methods, and "the inclusion of a public process in the city's selection of the best design." All proposals should include integrated parking structures – preferably owned by the public, with net parking revenues earmarked to fund transit and trails. A key goal, of course: growing the city's tax base by selling the land for redevelopment in a manner that "achieves other community values."

Some activists question whether a sell-off of citizen-owned land isn't innately antithetical to protecting community values, and advocates have been begging council members to require affordable housing at Green. Most sympathetic has been Council Member Jennifer Kim. "Personally, I would like to see designs that preserve green space," she said recently, "as well as provide homes and a quality day care that are affordable to Austin families."

The resolution does explicitly establish that 40% of property-tax proceeds "go [to] the Austin Housing Trust Fund to be spent to provide affordable housing in the urban core," which in theory could mean as much as $1 million annually. Projected future revenues could also be bonded to create a larger pot of money for affordable housing now. Housing advocate Heather Way recently expressed the hope that, if affordable housing is not required on-site at Green, council would dedicate a portion of its sale proceeds upfront for the purchase of other Downtown tracts.

Instead, council proposes that Green sale proceeds would cover direct project costs. The multimillion-dollar infrastructure costs anticipated include decommissioning and removing the Green plant, reconfiguring the sites, building new streets and a bridge over Shoal Creek, and financing new parking structures. If there's anything left over, it would be spent on "additional public amenities, to be identified" on-site.

To see the resolution, check for the related item on the Jan. 31 council session agenda (to be posted online Jan. 25), unless delayed.

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