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Design Commission OKs new Schlosser project

Thursday, January 28, 2010 by Austin Monitor

The Design Commission signed off on the Schlosser mixed-use project at Sixth and Bowie streets Monday night with only minor objections.


The block, part of Schlosser Development’s larger Market District project, would be home to two towers: a four-story retail site and a 350-foot tower with a mix of office space, residential units, and ground-floor retail. Current zoning on the site is for an eight-story 120-foot building that would contain 400,000 square feet under DMU zoning. Schlosser is looking for CURE zoning for the additional height, which the developer considers necessary to avoid on-site flood plain issues.


Rick Duggan, director of design and construction for Schlosser, addressed the Design Commission, noting that the constraints of the site made it close to impossible for Schlosser to accomplish what the Design Commission wanted: the first five floors presenting an active edge facing north.


The project will have an active edge on three sides, but a fourth side will have some constraints above the ground floor retail due to the parking deck, Duggan told the commissioners. The buildings are constrained by both the flood plain and the limits of the Capitol view corridor on the property.


Commissioners were not completely happy with that, but they did accept it. The letter from the commission to Council, however, will suggest that the parking decks be configured in such a way that they could be converted to some other secondary use in the future, as suggested by Commissioner Richard Weiss.


Commissioner Jeannie Wiginton did acknowledge that coming to conclusions on the design of the Schlosser tower might be premature, given that the current process for Schlosser is to secure support for a zoning change and not a full project review. As it is, it is still too early for many of the suggestions the Design Commission might make – such as proper articulation and step-backs.


“These plans really are meant to be conceptual at best,” Duggan said. “They’re not intended to get into either full scope or fenestration or articulation.”


Duggan said he would be happy to come back for future review before the commission. As commissioners noted, they were less than happy, from a design standpoint, about the placement of the Whole Foods grocery store parking lot configuration on the block next door, but that was a realization that came after the fact.


Changes were also made to the letter that acknowledged the effort Schlosser was making to improve Shoal Creek and provide open green space. Commissioner Eleanor McKinney struggled with the concept of how the Shoal Creek improvements could become part of the permanent plans for the property. Agent Alice Glasco noted that is typically accomplished by one of two means: a conditional overlay or a restrictive covenant. Staff liaison Jorge Rousselin cautioned that, under state law, that zoning could not be tied to any quid pro quo arrangement, such as Schlosser getting its zoning change if it agrees to improve Shoal Creek.


A restrictive covenant can be part of the consideration of a case, but it can not constitute a condition of zoning. Offers have to be separated from entitlement and zoning. Glasco noted that the developer had already agreed to various improvements as part of the current site plan permit.


“We agreed to this once,” Glasco said. “We’re happy to agree to it a second time.”


Commissioner Juan Cotera cautioned McKinney from stepping into an arena that typically belongs to other commissions. The Design Commission’s purpose is to gauge projects based on their design merits, she said. McKinney agreed but said she simply wanted to understand what Schlosser was obligated to provide.


If Schlosser had, for example, a cost overrun, what would prevent the developer from walking away form the major improvements to Shoal Creek and settling on a token contribution to the city? McKinney asked.


The letter of support for Schlosser passed unanimously. The final letter from the Design Commission, when it is amended and finally sent to Council, will include a list of voluntary items that could go into a restrictive covenant.

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