Micro-Unit Housing Planned for Eastside
Developer wants to repurpose East Cesar Chavez hotel tract
A micro-unit housing developer who hoped to build apartments at Fifth and Waller streets is now setting his sights on an East Cesar Chavez property – the site of a proposed Eastside hotel that galvanized neighborhood opposition – to construct the affordable housing complex.
In March, real estate developer Taylor Wilson of Centec Management, LLC unveiled plans for Austin's largest micro-housing property: some 260 units averaging 400 square feet, primarily aimed at a low-income demographic. Wilson told the Chronicle that deal recently fell through after a longtime tenant at the site was unable to move out before 2017. But he said he's now close to finalizing terms to buy the property at 1207 E. Cesar Chavez from investors that include Brian and Bree Carrico – the husband-and-wife pair of would-be hoteliers whose proposed project in fast-gentrifying East Austin garnered broad community opposition (see: "East Side Hotel Denied," June 10). Eastside residents balked at the hotel plan, citing the likely increased traffic the proposed 65-room hotel would bring to an already congested East Cesar Chavez, and the city's Planning Commission sided with residents, voting 4-1 against granting a conditional use permit for the hotel. In a recent telephone interview, Carrico acknowledged he was in conversations with Wilson to sell the land; citing ongoing negotiations, he declined to provide more details. But Wilson says the land transfer is something of a foregone conclusion: "We have what I would call a firm handshake agreement to buy the site. We can get that site no problem; that's a done deal."
But there's a new snag: Wilson says discussion with the owners of two needed lots in the development's footprint located at 1205 E. Cesar Chavez aren't moving as quickly as the discussions with the Carricos' investment team. Acquisition of those two lots – collectively comprising about one-fourth of an acre – would allow parking entry away from the congested East Cesar Chavez artery as community representatives would prefer, he said. Wilson has been apprising members of the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team for some weeks now on his plans for the land.
A changed entry site would add to an already long list of changes from the original plans Wilson had envisioned. The rebooted project will be smaller and contain fewer units. Of the 151 units at 1207 E. Cesar Chavez, 128 would be micro-units – with a mixture of affordable and market-rate apartments – and 23 live/work units designed for owners of small businesses on the ground floor who also would be tenants.
The original combination of partners is likely to change as well. And Wilson said the units will be prefabricated modular ones to be later assembled and stacked atop each other, speeding up completion by allowing site work to be performed simultaneously as off-site module construction. "My calculation is that it will save nine months," he said. "It can still be done in a high-caliber manner with tighter, better construction of units in a fraction of the time."
Alberto Martinez of the East Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Planning Team – which was stridently opposed to the Carricos' hotel plans – is amenable to Wilson's project. He said the planning team members were appreciative of the approach by Wilson, a 24-year-old entrepreneur following his real estate developer father's footsteps, in communicating his plans with them.
"We were very impressed by him," Martinez said in a recent phone interview. "We would welcome" the micro-units project, which would offer much-needed affordable housing for some on the Eastside where property rates have risen in light of commercial development. That tentative endorsement is in marked contrast to opposition to the scrapped hotel plans at that same site of land. "What is happening in East Austin is everyone wants to make as much as they can and the neighborhood be damned," said Martinez. "There's a lack of creativity. But this we would welcome."
Even while acknowledging that he's a businessman trying to make a profit off his ventures, Wilson said the idea of building much-needed affordable housing in an area of the city where there is a critical need for it was further appealing. "Obviously, there's a good, ethical feeling you get when you're building something people want," he said. "From a business perspective, the returns on investment are not through the roof as in other business projects, but building a micro-unit deal is something new. To be on the leading edge in Austin for a new kind of development will open a lot of doors down the road."