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Developer withdraws West side condo project before final reading

Friday, April 11, 2008 by Kimberly Reeves

The vocal neighbors of Tarrytown dodged a potential condominium project Thursday when developer Steve Buerlein chose to pull his Elm Terrace development on third reading rather than face opposition to his upscale project.


Evidently the developer agonized over the decision, however, not notifying city staff of his decision until Thursday morning.


Buerlein – who lives in the neighborhood – wanted to put a 22-unit condominium project on 2.2 acres the Austin State School auctioned off last year. Neighbors showed up en masse to complain about such a proposal, saying the project in the 3200 block of Exposition set a bad precedent if the State School were to choose to auction off additional property.


Architect Richard Weiss, who designed the project, said the proposal was pulled because the project simply would not work unless it had at least 22 units. Council blessed only 20 units on first reading late last year and on second reading in February, a compromise between the neighborhood’s desire to see 13 units on the site and the maximum number of units allowed under the suggested SF-6 zoning, which would have been 27.


“The original goal was to provide a mix of unit sizes and types that isn’t currently available in the market,” Weiss said. “We were talking about flat plates, with structured parking, with the intention being a project that could be marketed to empty nesters. This is the project for those people who don’t have kids anymore and want to downsize, and, from our point of view, this property was ideal for that kind of project.”


City staff, in fact, suggested SF-6 zoning would be appropriate on the property when it was being auctioned off, Weiss said. That made sense to the team working on the Elm Terrace project. It was located across an arterial from a neighborhood, had good pedestrian access to local amenities and mass transit and was located in an area that lacked much in the way of multi-family housing.


The West Austin Neighborhood Group disagreed. More than 100 people signed up to speak at the December Council hearing on the project, most concerned about precedent and density. All of Tarrytown is single family, with the median home price closer to $750,000 than the $350,000 per unit that Buerlein was pursuing.


All of that would have made the two-acre project an ideal one to pursue the new, and coveted, neighborhood pilot program LEED certification, Weiss said. Only three projects in the country have achieved the new energy-efficiency certification.


The only catch was that the developer would have to fit at least 10 units per acre in order for the project to meet density requirements and make fiscal sense, Weiss said. Already, the neighborhood and Council had requested a number of costly amenities on the development when the project was zoned, such as commercial design standards and urban sidewalks. The numbers simply didn’t work with 20 units, Weiss said.


In fact, the ideal density on the site would have been 24 to 26 units, but Buerlein was trying to meet the neighborhood on a compromise on the project, Weiss said.


Given the continuing opposition, it was easier to pull the project and attempt to negotiate with neighbors through the neighborhood planning process, Weiss said. WANG is taking part in the combined Central West Austin neighborhood plan right now.

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