Champion Tract to Change Hands Already?
Jonathan Coon plans to purchase tract, build senior living facility
City Council voted for the second time to approve an amendment to the settlement agreement governing the Champion Tract 3 last Thursday, closing another chapter in the long saga of the hotly debated Northwest Austin property. The amendment, which exchanges existing entitlements for other environmental waivers and variances that some area residents oppose, was first approved in November of 2016. But a lawsuit from four of those residents – formed together as the Lake Austin Collective – alleging violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act, got Council's approval voided in district court, and sent back to the dais for a second consideration. Only Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo changed her vote, siding against the proposal last Thursday, citing a deeper analysis of environmental concerns for the 45-acre tract.
But just as soon as Council approved the amendment, LAC was busy putting out the word that ownership of the tract may soon change hands, to someone who intends to develop the land in a way that the group believes would be more friendly to the environment and pose fewer threats to public safety. Entrepreneur Jonathan Coon, who already owns 145 acres near the tract, confirmed on Saturday that he has signed an option agreement with Slate Real Estate Partners, the tract's current owner.
Coon, the founder and former CEO of 1-800-CONTACTS, is already planning to build a series of homes on his current acreage, known as the Camelback tract, but intends to leave more green space than required under the PUD rules that apply, and to build a lakefront park. He said he'll seek to extend the PUD to encompass the Champion tract, and build a senior living facility on that site. At 120,000 square feet, the facility would be smaller in scope than Slate's previously planned apartments, and should reduce the amount of generated traffic. He said his agreement with Slate gives him until Sept. 1 to get approvals from the city for his plans on both tracts before the purchase would become final. He emphasized his intention to continue working with the neighbors to achieve a positive outcome. "We are all partners now for the next six months trying to get the combined package done with the city," he said.
Slate founding principal Mark Stevenson expressed a similar spirit of cooperation, despite what has been a bitter history with the project. "We are in a joint effort moving forward," he said. "We are providing [Coon] our engineers, architects, legal expertise. Anything we know or that we have at our disposal, we are assisting" Coon. While Stevenson said his firm would ultimately achieve less profit should the sale go through, he said the goodwill of doing it this way would be worth it. "We do like the idea that this is a solution that makes more people comfortable," he said. "We have more development to do in Austin and have no interest in having [sic] a bad taste with anyone." He said Slate will continue on with its original plan for the tract should the deal with Coon fall through.