Waterfront Agreement Ends Deadlock
Neighbors and developer reach deal on condo project
After a long stalemate, and facing almost certain rejection from City Council, the developer of the hotly contested waterfront condo project at 222/300 E. Riverside finally has agreed to new project parameters that have won the hearty endorsement of community groups. The project ignited a citizen outcry over variances to the Waterfront Overlay Ordinance, which protects open space along the Lady Bird Lake shoreline; the controversy led to formation of a new city Waterfront Overlay Task Force charged with reviewing the ordinance and making recommendations for protecting the public interest.
CWS Capital Partners and the community advocates protesting its project – SaveTownLake.org and South River City Citizens – last week reached an agreement that both sides hold up as a model for future responsible high-rise development on the lake. Council Member Mike Martinez took the lead on publicly supporting the SaveTownLake.org position, which filed a lawsuit against the city to uphold the height limits originally set in the 1986 Waterfront Overlay Ordinance. The City Council also signaled its concurrence with the group's position, as did the Travis Co. Democratic Party and the Austin Neighborhoods Council. The broad support smoothed the way for a negotiated agreement, according to Tom Cooke, chairman of the SaveTownLake.org group. Cooke said each council member has independently indicated support for the brokered agreement.
In contrasting council action on this developer-neighborhood conflict to the Northcross/Wal-Mart controversy, Council Member Lee Leffingwell pointed out that council was able to be a "hard-nosed and hard-headed" negotiator in this case, because it had the necessary power and leverage – CWS needed a council-approved variance.
The developer earned community accord by agreeing to build no higher than 96 feet; its site plan had shown condo towers of 200 feet, which both the neighborhood and SaveTownLake.org criticized as inappropriately out of scale. For their part, the advocates agreed to a 150-foot building setback from the shoreline, rather than the 200-foot setback required by the Waterfront Overlay Ordinance. However, within the 50-foot "secondary setback," the developer agreed to limit building heights to a low-rise 35 feet. CWS also agreed to permanently dedicate to the city as parkland the entire 1.5-square-mile area of the 150-foot waterfront setback; the park will include an extension of the Town Lake Trail that connects along protected creek frontage to Riverside Drive. "The revised plan illustrates responsible development along the shores of Lady Bird Lake," said Cooke.
With the new agreement, CWS attorney Richard T. Suttle Jr. will withdraw the existing site plans and council appeals. Said Suttle, "CWS is pleased that all of the parties were able to figure out a way to redevelop this property and respect the community values associated with the Waterfront Overlay Ordinance." He said a new plan will be filed soon; it will still need to undergo review from the Parks & Recreation Department, the Planning Commission, and City Council.
Leffingwell expects the new project to be filed as a planned unit development. Use of PUD zoning allows special-project concessions without setting the precedent of a variance to the Waterfront Overlay, which both Martinez and Leffingwell have opposed on principle. New, improved PUD zoning guidelines that incorporate better planning principles, community benefits, and green-building standards now are moving toward consideration by the Planning Commission and the council. Leffingwell said council can require the developer to meet the new PUD standards.