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ZAP: Spring may reach to 350 feet

Wednesday, October 19, 2005 by

Commission recommendation a major boost for developers

The Spring Condominium project—touted by some as a prototype for downtown residential projects—won a positive recommendation last night from the Zoning and Platting Commission (ZAP) on a 7-2 vote. The project will go on to the City Council with a maximum recommended height of 350 feet, just 50 feet less that the developers had requested.

The ZAP endorsed a zoning change from DMU to DMU-CURE along with a recommended height between 275 and 350 feet. The developers had planned for 36 stories for the point tower residential project at Third and Bowie streets, but may have to scale back their plans.

“We’re pleased that we got our zoning,” said Perry Lorenz, one of the partners in the development project. “We’re glad that there were so many positive comments on our project.” The restrictions, he said, would not eliminate the project. “At the upper limit of 350 feet, we have a project. It’s less affordable than what we wanted and it’s less units. We’d still like to get the 400 feet because that way we could get the affordability and the number of units.” The partners in the project had warned that it would not be built at all if they could not build it tall enough to carry out their plan for a Vancouver style tower.

So important was the decision on the Spring project that ZAP Chair Betty Baker had earlier appointed a subcommittee to study the zoning request and further consider the impact that this building and others like it would have on the downtown area.

Members of the Downtown Austin Neighborhood Association, the Downtown Austin Alliance, and the Downtown Commission all spoke in favor of the project, calling it a much-needed boost to the downtown residential population.

“We’re very excited about the Spring project, because it will contribute greatly to a vibrant downtown,” said Downtown Commission Vice Chair Jeb Boyt. “It is certainly appropriately located adjacent to the proposed transit hub at Seaholm, and is consistent with the widely-held view the downtown begins at Lamar.”

Fellow Downtown Commission member Chris Riley told the ZAP the additional density would be in keeping with long-held plans for downtown densification. “All the plans that encompass this area contemplate the kind of project you see here, that seeks to repopulate the urban core and bring vitality back to our streets,” he said. “The hope has always been that we would have multiple projects that would repopulate an urban core that was largely depopulated over the years since about 1940.”

Opponents of the project liked the design, but not the location, disputing the claim that downtown’s western boundary is Lamar Boulevard. “We keep building downtown buildings outside of downtown,” said Lorraine Atherton of the Zilker Neighborhood Association. “We ask you, when you consider this tower that’s outside the CBD, build the Central Business District first. Then let’s talk about expanding it.”

Cory Walton of the Bouldin Neighborhood told commissioners the zoning change would effectively expand the definition of downtown beyond its historical boundaries. “The concern of the near-in neighborhoods that attended the subcommittee meetings was the effect of these leaps of downtown central business district height and density, and its apparent crawl,” he said. “We understand and appreciate the value that this type of design and height brings to the Central Business District.” But Walton said that designation should not apply to the tract at Third and Bowie. “We think that there needs to be some consideration and respect for these transitional areas.”

Commissioner Joseph Martinez seemed particularly concerned by the idea that Third and Bowie might be considered a part of downtown. “This is a zoning case for the dirt, not the project or a referendum for what I see as the future of Austin,” he said. “The right thing to do here is, because of its proximity to neighborhoods, to be a transition area…and that’s why I would go with 275 feet.” He suggested that height based on calculations from staff that under the 5:1 floor-to-area ratio allowed under DMU, the building would have a maximum height of 16 stories.

While Commissioner Janis Pinelli stood by Martinez’s suggestion through a flurry of motions and substitute motions, most of the rest of the Commission was inclined to allow a greater height. “I’ve done a lot of thinking about this project. There are the neighborhoods that are in proximity, but I can also think of historic neighborhoods that are up against high-rise buildings all across the country that are very successful neighborhoods, and they thrive,” said Commissioner Keith Jackson, who moved to approve the height range of 275 to 350 feet.

Commissioner Clarke Hammond had initially offered a motion to grant the developer’s full requested height. “We’re living in the 21st century. “It’s not impossible for me, as a neighborhood activist, to wrap my mind around a 400-foot tall building,” he said. “The concept of a point tower is something I find interesting.”

The commission vote 7-2 to support Jackson’s motion to allow the zoning change with qualifications, including the 275-350 foot height range. Commissioners Martinez and Pinelli were opposed.

Along with the height restriction, the motion passed by the ZAP also included a conditional overlay limiting the trips per day, the size of the podium for the tower, and the size of the building’s floor plate.

Commission recommends taller tower at 3rd & Nueces

Commissioners also approved a zoning request for a proposed 538-foot-tall condominium building located at West Third and Nueces streets. The Block 25 Project, developed by Atlanta-based Novare Group Inc. and Austin development firm Andrews Urban LLC, presented fewer problems that the Spring project, because it is proposed for what is unarguably the central business district where there are no height regulations.

Part of the building does fall in a Capitol View Corridor, but the building’s developers have adjusted a portion of the structure to fit within those limitations. The developers have a request before the Historic Landmark Commission to relocate a moonlight tower currently on the southwest corner of the property.

According to developer Taylor Andrews, the building will have 421 units, will contain a maximum of 11,060 square feet of retail space, 3,557 square feet of restaurant and a floor-to-area ratio of 10-to-1. “We are hoping to keep out price point well below what it currently is for most downtown properties,” he said. “A one-bedroom unit will start under $200,000 and a two-bedroom under $300,000.”

Several people, including representatives of adjacent neighborhoods, spoke in favor of the project, most saying that its central business district location made it ideal for improving housing density in the downtown area. Commissioners voted 8-1 to recommend approval of the project, with Commissioner Janis Pinnelli voting no.

Citizens seek arts, library funding

Committee must now weigh many requests for bond proposals

Requests for arts and literature projects dominated the discussion at the city’s Bond Election Advisory Committee’s final public hearing before making its final recommendations to the City Council. Monday night’s hearing, at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, drew about 150 people.

The topic that drew the largest number of speakers was a request for a new, 500-seat auditorium at the Zachary Scott Theatre complex. A large and vocal group of supporters attended the meeting, waving signs and cheering each time someone would speak for the project. Other topics drawing large numbers were a new Central Library and the Mexican American Cultural Center.

Some also expressed sentiment for buying and preserving open spaces now, while the land is still available.

The Bond Advisory Committee, named in April by the City Council, has been meeting in subcommittees and holding public hearings to get input on what items should be on the bond election ballot in May. The city has identified approximately $769 million in needs for drainage, transportation, renovations and maintenance, new facilities, a new Central Library, land acquisition and affordable housing. To date, citizens have requested an additional $268 million in projects.

Depending on whether the city stays within its current effective tax rate or chooses to raise that rate, estimates of the amount of bonds to be approved range from $279 million to $600 million.

Mary Alice Karnes told committee members that $15 million is needed to construct a new auditorium at the Zachary Scott Theatre.

“The current facilities there are operating at maximum capacity,” she said. “A growing city needs to maintain its cultural vitality.”

Carolyn Kelly said a new Central Library in necessary to support a literate community.

“When I first moved here, one of the main points that got my attention was Austin’s Central Library,” she said. “Austin once had a great library, but now it is outdated. They have to remove a book for every new book they put on a shelf. We need to build a new Central Library that reflects the growth of the city.”

Emilio Zamora told the committee that some in Austin’s Hispanic community have been waiting 30 years for the city to fulfill the promise of the Mexican American Cultural Center.

“It’s a matter of fulfilling a commitment,” he said. “The delays and postponements are very frustrating. The city has a responsibility to complete this project, not just for the Mexican American community but for the community as a whole. It should be a center for all of Austin.”

Other speakers sought bond money for preserving prairie lands in the Austin area, improvements to the Austin Recreation Center, a new, larger building to replace the Daugherty Arts Center, and for skate parks.

A few speakers pleaded with the committee to put a priority on the purchase of open space in the urban areas. John Diehl said that the city can not afford to allow developers to buy up the last few acres of green space.

“We need beautiful space as well as infrastructure,” he said. “People do not have to join a country club to find beautiful places here in Austin.”

Austin Neighborhoods Council Vice President Jeff Jack said time is short.

“We need to invest now in open spaces while they are available,” he said. We need to look at what needs to be done now to preserve these lands before they are gone.”

©2005 In Fact News, Inc. All rights reserved.

Toll Road study . . . After a couple of weeks of debate, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to approve $25,000 and an interlocal agreement, joining several other stakeholders in a study of CAMPO’s Phase II Toll Road Project. Commissioners named Precinct 3 Commissioner Gerald Daugherty as the Travis County representative on the study’s Steering Committee . . . Disability Mentoring Day . . . Council Member Betty Dunkerley will lead more than 35 high school and college students with disabilities in the community’s Third Annual Disability Mentoring Day today. The day is planned to increase awareness of career opportunities for those with disabilities. Austin area youths with disabilities and their families are welcome to attend the final session at 3pm at the Brown Heatly Building, 4900 N. Lamar . . . State of downtown . . . Mayor Will Wynn will give his annual State of Downtown Address at noon today at The Four Seasons Hotel. According to the Downtown Austin Alliance, Wynn will discuss new developments taking place downtown, retail development strategy implementation, and commuter rail impact . . . Earlier in the day, Wynn will address the Long Center Corporate Council and their invited guests at breakfast meeting in the Driskill Hotel downtown. Executive Director Cliff Redd will talk about plans for the Long Center and IBC Bank-Austin president Bob Barnes will present a check for $100,000 to the Long Center . . . More on Proposition 2. . . The Republican Party of Texas sent out an email yesterday urging members to vote for the constitutional ban on same sex marriage . . .The Travis County Libertarian Party came out against Prop 2, as have the majority of Travis County Democratic elected officials ( See In Fact Daily, October 18, 2005.) . . . The Texas Libertarian Party also sent out an email opposing Propositions 1 and 9. Proposition 1 would allow creation of the Texas Rail Relocation and Improvement Fund and authorize issuance of bonds to relocate and expand rail facilities. Proposition 1, according to the Libertarians, is like a blank check to subsidize moving rail lines “into Gov. Perry’s Trans Texas Corridor.” According to the League of Women Voters, those in favor of the proposition say that the proposal would enhance safety at rail crossings and could save money in the highway fund that is now spent on railroad crossing improvements . . . Proposition 9 relates to authorizing a six-year term for board members of the Regional Mobility Authority. The Libertarians defer to Sal Costello of the Austin Toll Party as the authority on this matter . . . The local Libertarians are also opposed to the Travis County bond package on the grounds that Travis County taxpayers are already paying too much and should not be asked to shoulder a greater burden. . . . Meetings . . . The Environmental Board meets at 6pm in Council Chambers at City Hall . . . The Historic Preservation Task Force meets at 5:30pm in room 240 at One Texas Center . . . The Downtown Commission meets at 6pm in room 1101 at City Hall . . . Looking ahead . . . On Thursday, Longhorn Partners Pipeline, L.P. will host an open house from 5-7 pm at Langford Elementary Schoo l on Blue Meadow Road. This is a "come and go as you please" meeting with no program, just an opportunity to meet some of the people that are responsible for the pipeline's operations, health and safety, and monitoring programs, ask questions or state concerns, and get some knowledgeable responses. . . . Envision Central Texas and T he Greater San Antonio-Austin Corridor Commission will host a public SH 130 Corridor Summit on November 19 at the TDS Exotic Game Ranch and Pavilion in Creedmoor. The summit will spotlight critical issues Central Texas leaders and citizens will face during development of the corridor. There will be no charge to attend but reservations will be required. Register online at http://www.envisioncentraltexas.org or by calling (512) 916-6037.

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