Council Recap: So Many Decisions Still Unmade

Homelessness, East 11th and 12th development, and Statesman PUD in focus

Council Recap: So Many Decisions Still Unmade

Apart from the Front Steps action, the highest-profile items on the July 28 agenda were talked about, but not voted on. One of them – the HealthSouth tract near the former Brackenridge Hospital Downtown – is covered in this week's "Austin at Large." Here are some others …

Tensions between old and new neighbors over updates to the multiple overlapping plans that govern development along East 11th and 12th streets – Austin's old Black Downtown during segregation, now in the heart of diverse, hip, gentrifying Central East – continued to simmer. Proposed future land use rules for 11th Street were approved unanimously, about eight years after this zoning conversation was first proposed. But companion plans for 12th Street have been punted to Sept. 1 to allow more time for neighbors to talk to one another.

The big flash point is a proposal by Council Member Natasha Harper-Madison, whose District 1 includes the corridors, that would allow cocktail lounges as a conditional use on 12th Street. Most people don't understand how difficult it can be to get a conditional use permit for something – like a bar – that neither the city nor the neighbors want at a certain location. But the newer (and whiter) residents of the neighbor­­hoods say that allowing more bars to open along 12th Street (there are several at the landmark corner of 12th and Chicon) would disrupt the area's more family-friendly residential vibe.

But people like cultural entrepreneur Harold McMillan who've lived and worked in the neighborhood for decades and spent nearly as long trying to shape its redevelopment plans, say that well before those families came to Central East, Black Austinites lived alongside bars and music venues peaceably on these same streets. McMillan, founder of the East Austin Creative Coalition, told Council and his neighbors that allowing those establishments to grow on East 11th and 12th will produce the vitality stakeholders have wanted to see. "We're not talking about a bunch of bars," McMillan told Council. "We're talking about cultural institutions that might be commercial businesses to help the city's economy."

Council also postponed a second-reading vote on the massive development plan for 305 S. Congress, known as the Statesman PUD (planned unit development), the site of a tug-of-war between some CMs and Endeavor Real Estate Group, which seeks to redevelop the daily's former home turf. Unsurprisingly, the primary sticking point is how much affordability to include at the 19-acre site, in a high-rise project that will also include luxury condos, offices, retail, a hotel, and a new waterfront park along Lady Bird Lake. Endeavor says that 305 S. Congress' complex financing means only 4% of its proposed housing units can be income-restricted, but CMs led by Kathie Tovo, whose District 9 includes the site, want on-site affordability at 10%. Doing so could be possible, Endeavor's agent Richard Suttle has told Council, but it would mean less money to invest in the park and infrastructure surrounding and inside the PUD – all of which would be paid for with private dollars but accessible by the public. Negotiations will continue, possibly at a public council work session, before the zoning cases return to the dais Sept. 1.

Next week, Council will hold more work sessions on the fiscal year 2023 budget and propose amendments to City Manager Spencer Cronk's draft spending plan. The following week, they'll meet Wed., Aug. 17, to discuss and vote on the budget (with Aug. 18 and 19 reserved if needed).

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