The Grove Gets Final Approval

With one PUD approved, attention turns to Austin Oaks

Unofficial buzz at City Hall last week was that the over/under for adjourning the Dec. 15 City Council meeting was 3am. So the fact that Council completed its last regular meeting of the year by 1:15am can be considered a minor victory, accomplished with a predictable portion of postponements and withdrawals (roughly 20% of the 101-Item agenda) – along with second and third readings, matters that will drift like fallen oak leaves into the new year – but all in all, Council managed to complete a good bit of work within a fairly steady 16 hours of business. (And they don't get paid overtime.)

The headline accomplishment, of course, was final approval of the planned unit development ordinance covering the Grove at Shoal Creek – mostly along the lines established by the mediated agreement between the Bull Creek Road Coalition of nearby neighborhoods and developer ARG Bull Creek Ltd. Prior to the meeting, there had been a flurry of apprehension (and some reflexive outrage) that Council was considering amendments that would upset that applecart – specifically, allowing greater commercial acreage in return for more affordable housing units, or improving internal connectivity by extending Jackson Avenue (just southwest of the Grove tract) through the development and onto 45th Street. Both tentative proposals (discussed in Tues­day's work session) were strongly opposed by the BCRC, and it was clear there was little enthusiasm on the dais to reopen still oozing wounds.

Instead, Council Member Greg Casar successfully proposed increasing the city's "buy-down" contribution to the affordable housing to $13.15 million (from $10.2 million), allowing an eventual boost from 138 units to 160 or more (tied to the eventual total number of units), and CM Delia Garza reluctantly reduced her Jackson Ave. connectivity proposal to only a bicycle and pedestrian easement to 45th Street, while lamenting that the mediated agreement – to which the city was not a party – had somewhat tied Coun­cil's hands on PUD refinements. "We're not going to solve these issues [of affordability and connectivity]," Garza said, "doing it neighborhood by neighborhood."

Additional tweaks included a requirement that at least 50% of the affordable units be two-bedroom (to enable more resident families), and a pilot program intended to create "employer-assisted" affordable housing from nearby businesses. With these and a few other provisions, the ordinance passed 10-1, with only CM Ellen Troxclair (who opposed the additional city funding for affordable housing) voting no. Some other highlights of the long day's journey:

Keep On PUDding: The last item of the night was the Austin Oaks PUD (MoPac at Spicewood Springs Road), which eventually passed on first reading only, in a very preliminary form and with the public hearing remaining open. An exhausted Council heard from supporters and opponents of the mixed-use development; the Northwest Austin Civic Association supports the PUD, but other neighbors are fiercely opposed. Barring postponements, the next Council discussion will take place in early February.

A Pile of Manure: Amidst ongoing opposition from competing waste recyclers, a proposed contract to manage biosolids at Austin Water's Hornsby Bend plant was withdrawn, and Council directed staff to issue a new Request for Proposals. Contro­versy includes both rival companies and a new charge that Austin Resource Recovery is effectively planning to replace private recyclers with its own operations. Council hasn't heard the last of this shit.

Gun Grab?: A resolution (sponsored by Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo) to support the Austin Police Department's free gun-lock and safety information program (funded via a private foundation) ran into trouble from CMs Troxclair and Don Zimmerman (who called the whereas clauses of statistics describing the risk of guns to children "political advocacy for gun control"). Offered a split motion, CMs Troxclair and Zimmerman voted against the whereas clauses, with Zimmerman the only no against the resolution.

Second Chances: Under the city's new transportation network company regs (adopted during the Uber and Lyft controversy), some shuttle, taxi, and ride-hailing drivers have learned that previous criminal convictions, some long ago, will prevent them from continuing to drive. Several testified movingly to Council about their predicament, as did Billy Carter, who operates SuperShuttle. Council re-created an appeal process (initially through the Transportation Department) to allow reformed drivers to reclaim their jobs.

Immigrant Defense: A resolution to find emergency funding to support immigrants' legal defense – primarily to improve access, the amount and extent yet to be determined – brought sharp objection from CM Zim­merman that "the taxpayers" should be defended instead. He was brought up short by CMs Casar and Garza, who reminded him that immigrants (legal or undocumented) are also taxpayers, who generally see little return on those taxes. Troxclair and Zimmerman voted no.

In addition to the few surviving zoning cases – plenty to carry on into 2017 – Rotel & the Hot Tomatoes delivered a stinging rendition of Cheryl Lynn's 1978 hit, "Got to Be Real." Not a bad idea.

Officially, there’s one more 2016 meeting: today (Dec. 22), to canvass (confirm) the results of the Nov. 8 city election, but that’s a ceremonial obligation requiring attendance by only a couple of members. See you in 2017!

A Grove PUD Checklist

The final form of the ordinance concerning the Grove at Shoal Creek PUD was a hybrid of the mediated agreement between the Bull Creek Road Coalition of nearby neighborhood associations and the developer, ARG Bull Creek Ltd., with amendments added by City Council on Dec. 15. Following are the major elements approved by Council for the 75.7-acre tract.

Office development limit: 185,000 sq. ft.

Retail/commercial limit: 140,000 sq. ft.

Single tenant retail/commercial limit: 35,000 sq. ft.

Cocktail lounge total limit: 10,000 sq. ft.

Number of residential units: Capped at 1,515 (at full build-out, over 20 years)

Percentage of affordable units: 12.5% (city contribution capped at $13.15 million)

Rental units: 11.85% at 60% median family income; 1.6% at 80% MFI

Owned homes: 7.9% at 80% MFI

Employer-assisted housing pilot: Employers to partly subsidize employees (40% MFI)

Outside amplified sound limit: 10am-9pm (Sun.-Thur.); 10am-9:30pm Fri./Sat./holidays

Certain restrictions on heights, setbacks along Bull Creek Road

No vehicle connection at Jackson Ave./45th St. (bike/pedestrian easement only)

Developer contribution of $400,000 in traffic mitigation/calming/sidewalks; city will put in $900,000

Drainage review: no adverse drainage impact downstream; $50,000 put in escrow for future claims.

Total credited parkland: 14.48 acres; managed with neighborhood input

Plans for tree preservation, green building standards, landscaping standards

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City Council, Grove at Shoal Creek, ARG Bull Creek Ltd., Bull Creek Road Coalition, Greg Casar, Delia Garza, Ellen Troxclair, Austin Oaks, Northwest Austin Civic Association, Kathie Tovo, Hornsby Bend, Don Zimmerman, Uber, Lyft, Billy Carter, Cheryl Lynn

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