Save Our Springs Sues City Over Statesman Site Redevelopment

They claim city violated procedural rules and affordability requirements

Renderings of the proposed South Central Waterfront District plan, which the Statesman PUD is part of (images via City of Austin Public Documents)

On May 22, Save Our Springs Alliance filed a lawsuit against City Council over its approval of the Statesman Planned Unit Development in December 2022, which would allow over 3.5 million square feet of residential, office, hotel, and retail development at the old Austin American-Statesman site on the south shore of Lady Bird Lake.

SOS claims that the PUD “goes beyond zoning by essentially adopting a separate code unique only to this property,” said Bobby Levinski, an attorney with Save Our Springs, in a press release about the filing. SOS claims the city violated over a dozen state and local laws, including the Open Meetings Act, the city charter relating to parkland, and certain procedural rules such as proper notice. They also claim that developer Endeavor Real Estate was allowed to skip “code-required procedural steps” that would have resulted in more affordable housing.

“The City Council shouldn’t be granting special privileges to billionaires.”  – Save Our Springs’ Bobby Levinski

Much of the Council discussion in 2022 centered around affordability, as Endeavor paid a $23.2 million fee-in-lieu toward affordable housing within 1.5 miles of the site, instead of providing affordable units on-site. “The Statesman PUD threw out the City’s affordability goals of 20% housing and ignored the density bonus standards embedded within the PUD ordinance,” said Levinski in the press release. Before agreeing to a fee-in-lieu, some Council members wanted a 10% affordability requirement, but Endeavor offered closer to 4%, citing the cost of subsidizing that many affordable units. The Chronicle noted at the time that a third-party economic analysis showed an on-site option would have yielded around 55 affordable units, while off-site, the city could get around 70.

In response to SOS’s claim that the city ignored density bonus standards, a city spokesperson told the Chronicle that “PUD zoning authorizes the City Council to modify land use regulations. This is a common part of PUD zoning applications.” They added that if the Statesman site develops more than 1,378 residential units, the owner may be required to pay an additional fee-in-lieu.

Aside from affordability, SOS fears the city is “privatizing public land” and skirting environmental regulations for the PUD by reducing setbacks that protect Lady Bird Lake and Bouldin Creek (they’re set at 150 feet, but the PUD is planned at 90 feet from the water). SOS also claims that the city is using the Statesman PUD as a model for the entire South Central Waterfront area. At its meeting Thursday, Council postponed an item to July 18 that would have authorized blanket rezoning changes for over 120 acres of land, “extending downtown-style development south of the lake,” says Levinski.

SOS recently succeeded in its last lawsuit against the city for the same development. In April, Travis County District Court Judge Jessica Mangrum ruled that the developers of the Statesman PUD can’t fund it with $354 million in property taxes from a newly created South Central Waterfront Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. If SOS wins this current suit, the developers – the Cox family and Endeavor – would have to file a new zoning request.

“Every other property owner has to comply with the laws that protect Austin’s water bodies and parks and that ensure the creation of income-restricted housing,” said Levinski. “The City Council shouldn’t be granting special privileges to billionaires at the expense of its other taxpayers.”

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Statesman PUD, South Central Waterfront District, City Council, Save Our Springs

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