Eastside Hotel, Round Two

Developers appeal permit rejection to City Council

Protesters came out to City Hall in June to urge the Planning Commission to reject the East Side Hotel's permit application.
Protesters came out to City Hall in June to urge the Planning Commission to reject the East Side Hotel's permit application. (Photo by Sandy Carson)

The would-be developers of a proposed hotel on the city's Eastside are geared up for round two in their battle to get their project built – a plan that's galvanized neighborhood opposition – as they prepare an appeal asking City Council to reverse an earlier rejection of their conditional use permit application by the Planning Commission.

"What we're focused on now is to get City Council to view this case as it currently stands and let them weigh in on it," Brian Carrico, one half of the husband-and-wife team behind the hotel, told the Chronicle. "We're following the process as we have from the beginning."

He stressed the scale and configuration of the proposed development would be the same as what had been presented to the Planning Commission. Residents of the established neighborhood that lies in the midst of the development's footprint have balked at the sheer scale of the plans – 65 rooms, three stories, with an attached bar/restaurant. Carrico said he and his financial backers (whom he declined to identify when asked) would not reduce the scale of the project ahead of the appeal, despite opposition.

"If we get through the process and the City Council agrees it's out of scale, then it's something we will accept," Carrico said. "It's not something we have further avenues for further appeal."

He ticked off a number of concessions and design alterations already made in response to neighborhood concerns: a wall acting as a buffer between the hotel and El Buen Pastor Early Childhood Development Center, located across the street from the site of the hotel; guaranteed work stoppage during construction when the day care's children are scheduled for their naps; underground parking to reduce vehicle congestion along neighborhood streets; a $16,000 offer to the Guadalupe Neighborhood Development Corp. to promote affordable housing (contingent on approval for the development); $9,000 disbursed among displaced residents of homes on the property to defray their moving costs; and a pledge signed with the Workers Defense Project ensuring a range of safeguards for construction workers, including a wage of $15 an hour.

But Alberto Martinez, chair of the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team, said opposition to the project has not waned given its unchanged scale. He noted his membership this past Saturday secured support from another neighborhood association, the Holly Neighborhood Coalition, in opposing the plans. All told, some 500 residents have signed a petition opposing the hotel, he said.

"Everything they've done still doesn't address the concerns we've had about the hotel – the size, location, and impact it would have on our neighborhood," Martinez told the Chronicle. "Affordable housing is wonderful and it's hard to turn your nose up at it, but the fundamental problems are with what he wants to build."

Along with other residents, Martinez said he feels besieged by the wave of gentrification that has swept over the Eastside. Once a neglected part of town, the Eastside has gradually become a trendy spot for commercial developers intent on capitalizing on the sector's character. Martinez pointed to continuing development further transforming the landscape: the Rainey Street corridor, which is increasingly lined with upscale bars and restaurants; the developing, 50-room Red Bluff hotel on the otherwise-restricted Colorado waterfront on the Eastside, approved by the Planning Commission in February; and an abundance of restaurants and bars often doubling their capacity once approved for construction by adding outdoor patio seating as a way of circumventing the spirit of pre-construction agreements.

"I really don't think they're serious about negotiating on the size of the hotel and the restaurant," Martinez said of the Carricos' plans. "They're dead set on that, and that's the most important issue we have with that project. It has a big restaurant and a big bar that will bring a lot of people here, and add more congestion and more danger since there will be drinking there. It opens the floodgates to create a Rainey Street effect."

For his part, Carrico pointed to the support his investment group has secured, including that of more than 300 neighborhood residents in addition to "local churches, businesses, nonprofits" and an original letter of support from the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team contingent on 16 construction conditions centered on affordable housing, living wages, historic preservation, and minimized disruption. Martinez said that early endorsement letter came during a hastily called special meeting in December – a month during which the team has historically not met, and for an endorsement item in violation of its bylaws – after Carrico himself pulled out of the November meeting agenda only to be asked to be reinserted in the following month. Martinez surmised the team's former chairman was unaware a December meeting would be in violation of the group's bylaws. Ultimately, a new vote was taken in May at the request of residents. In a paper vote, a majority of the membership voted against the conditional use permit, Martinez said. By May 21, Martinez sent a letter to members of the city's Planning and Development Review Department explaining the snafu and the neighborhood team's subsequent valid vote on the issue.

One key member of the community – District 3 City Council Member Pio Renteria, whose area of representation encompasses the Eastside – said he won't be among the supporters come next month. Renteria has been a vocal opponent of the hotel plans from the outset, and was among a group of speakers voicing disapproval outside City Hall ahead of the Planning Commission's ultimate rejection of the Carricos' plans.

"I can't support that at all, and they know that, too," he said in a July 20 interview. "It's not the right project for the area there."

As he marshals the neighborhood forces that helped defeat the hotel plans last month – a David vs. Goliath victory he concedes took even him by surprise – Martinez hinted he's once again poised for a hard battle come August: "We're going to fight that as much as we can and as long as we can."

The Aug. 6 appeal is scheduled to take place at City Hall, 301 W. Second, at 4pm.

Got something to say on the subject? Send a letter to the editor.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by Tony Cantú
Jumpolin Lawsuit Settled
Jumpolin Lawsuit Settled
But terms of the settlement aren't being released

Dec. 3, 2015

Anti-Latino Prejudice in Austin
Anti-Latino Prejudice in Austin
Art vandalization an unwelcome reminder

Dec. 4, 2015

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle