The Austin Chronicle

Council: A Rezoning Case at Historic Delta Kappa Gamma House

On the agenda: A contract with the SAFE Alliance to run a new family violence shelter and Stratus eyes the sky

By Austin Sanders, May 21, 2021, News

City Council meets today, May 20, where it is likely to approve a rezoning request from the owners of the Delta Kappa Gamma house located at 12th and San Antonio. The one-story office building serves as the international headquarters for DKG Society International, a nonprofit organization that serves women educators; it was built in 1956 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.

The organization is seeking to rezone the property to downtown mixed use, a zoning category created for transitional areas between the core of the central business district and surrounding neighborhoods that allows for a maximum building height of 120 feet. But it is also applying for the city's Downtown Density Bonus Program, which would allow developer Stratus Properties to shoot up to a maximum of 400 feet. Stratus plans a 375-foot tall tower at the site, with 6,000 square feet of ground-floor restaurant space topped by 280 residential units. A conditional overlay agreed to by Stratus and surrounding property owners, who initially filed a valid petition against the rezoning, will limit the restaurant space's bar area to no more than 2,500 square feet.

Council approved the rezoning on first reading at its May 6 meeting, but fell one vote short of the seven required to pass a rezoning request on all three readings at once. Mayor Pro Tem Natasha Harper-Mad­i­son, who supports the rezoning and would have voted for it, had to miss the vote due to a family emergency. Council Members Mackenzie Kelly, Leslie Pool, and Alison Alter all voted against passing the rezoning on all three readings at the May 6 meeting. Alter said the proposal called for "an enormous amount of height" for the area. After that failed vote, Pool made a motion to pass the case on first reading, allowing neighbors and CMs to have their concerns addressed and for the case to return to Council on May 20 for the second and third reading votes. The first reading vote passed unanimously.*

Staff has recommended the development be limited to 60 feet in height, which they say is more in line with guidelines set in the Downtown Austin Plan, but the attorney representing Stratus during the rezoning process, Michael Whel­lan, told staff that such a limitation would make the residential units financially infeasible. He noted that the site, while in what the Downtown plan treats as a lower-intensity area, falls within the area eligible for density bonuses since 2014.

Moreover, a portion of the DKG site is already zoned DMU, and the property is within 250 feet of Project Connect's envisioned Government Center light rail station – making it a prime candidate for dense, transit-supported housing. The DKG bonus application will need to propose community benefits in return for the bonus, which Whellan said will include $200,000 for homelessness response.

In other business, Council will approve a contract with the SAFE Alliance, Austin's largest nonprofit helping survivors of child abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence, to run a new family violence shelter. SAFE was the only group to submit a complete application for the contract, which is for up to $2 million, and will operate the site (which is currently serving as protective lodging to protect people experiencing homelessness from COVID-19) after it undergoes renovation. Staff expects that to take 18-24 months once a contractor is hired, but it's possible SAFE could administer services at a reduced capacity while renovation work is underway.

The shelter was called for in a Council resolution brought by CM Greg Casar on June 4, 2020 – the meeting where Council began to lay out plans for reducing police spending to fund other public safety and health priorities. A later budget amendment moved $1.5 million from the Austin Police Department to fund shelter operations.

Editor’s Note: A portion of this story has been updated to more accurately describe the vote taken on the Delta Kappa Gamma House zoning case at the May 6 meeting.

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