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Green improvements win board approval for Barton Springs Road building

Friday, May 8, 2009 by Bill McCann

A proposal to construct a 120-foot-tall building on vacant land between two existing office buildings on Barton Springs Road across from the Palmer Events Center received backing from the Environmental Board on Wednesday.


The property, owned by Texas American Resources Company, an Austin-based energy firm, is the site of the now-demolished Filling Station Restaurant and Bar at 801 Barton Springs Road. The owner wants to construct a building with a restaurant, above-ground parking and office space, including its headquarters.


Environmental Board members indicated that the owner’s proposal to take a number of extra steps, including environmental improvements to East Bouldin Creek behind the property, outweighed questions about the building’s height and its compatibility with the neighborhood. The fact that there already are office buildings on each side of the property also made the proposal easier to accept.


The Austin Energy building, which is about 60 feet high, is directly to the east. The 811 office building, which is about 120 feet high, is directly to the west. (Both buildings are almost 20 feet taller if their caps are included.) The 811 building was constructed in the early 1980s before compatibility regulations were in place.


The proposed building, called The Park, would be constructed on slightly less than eight-tenths of an acre. The board voted 5-0, with two members absent, to support rezoning the site from commercial to Planned Unit Development (PUD) zoning, which would allow the building to exceed the area’s height limit of 60 feet.


Because a project needs to be “superior” to be considered for a PUD designation, the owner has proposed a number of amenities, including controlling erosion on East Bouldin Creek by making stream bank and drainage improvements. The project also would include a pedestrian walkway from the back of the building to Barton Springs Road and the building would be constructed to the city’s 3-star Green Building standards for energy efficiency.  The board’s approval was conditional on the property owner carrying out these measures.


Clark Patterson, senior planner for the Neighborhood Planning and Zoning Department, said his department has recommended against the PUD rezoning because it is not consistent with the Bouldin Creek Neighborhood Plan.


Cory Walton, neighborhood activist and resident of the Bouldin Creek neighborhood, urged the board to oppose the PUD zoning request.


“The PUD proposal would mean taking the existing 60-foot height restriction and throwing it out the window and taking compatibility standards for neighborhood residences and throwing them out the window,” Walton said.


Approving a PUD on less than an acre of land, when 10 acres is the standard for PUDS, would eliminate the distinction between PUD zoning and commercial zoning, Walton said.


“You are setting a precedent for future mini-PUDs,” Walton added.


But Steve Drenner of Drenner and Golden Stuart Wolff, LLP, agent for the owners, defended the project, saying that the new PUD ordinance allows for PUDs on less than 10 acres where superior projects will be built.


The site is constrained because it is sandwiched between two office buildings, Drenner said. “We are a unique site and PUDs are designed to deal with unique situations.”


The next step for the proposed project is the Planning Commission in late May or early June before moving on to the City Council for final action, according to Drenner.

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