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Commission backs DMU-CURE for downtown mixed-use project

Thursday, June 16, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves

The Planning Commission rejected a developer’s request for Central Business District zoning Tuesday, deciding to back a neighborhood suggestion that two key pieces of property along West Seventh Street be designated for high-density downtown mixed use.


The project is being developed by LOWA, Ltd, which is a partnership between Daryl Kunik and Matt Luckie. Kunik and Luckie have developed some of the most popular bars and restaurants in downtown Austin, from the Belmont to Lucky Lounge, Uchi, Mercury Hall, Betsy’s Bar, Hi-Lo, Red Fez, Oslo and the Lavaca Street Bar. A mixed-use high-density high-rise would certainly be the duo’s most ambitious project to date.


Only three years after a contentious zoning case just up the block drew months of protracted and painful negotiations, Kunick and Luckie’s agent Ron Thrower requested that half a block, 701 Seventh St. and 711 Seventh St., be zoned Central Business District. The two local neighborhood associations, West Austin Neighborhood Group and the Original Austin Neighborhood Association,  wanted to see DMU-CURE.

Thrower said his request, and the preferences of neighborhood leaders Ted Siff and Blake Tollett, were not necessarily as far apart as they might appear. Thrower was willing to meet a number of concessions outlined by the neighborhood: a 375-foot height limit; 50 percent residential units; 2,000 trips-per-day, as suggested by city staff; and a single story of underground parking. All of that could fall under the zoning category of CBD-CO.


The problem was the transition that neighbors wanted to see between what is known informally as the West Sixth Entertainment District and the neighborhood.


“On this square block, our desire is to see DMU-CURE,” Siff said. “We think it’s a more appropriate zoning for a number of reasons, some of which were referenced at the end of the applicant’s statement, which is that CBD has a whole portfolio of uses that don’t apply to DMU-CURE.”


Carving a list of uses out of a project was simply easier under DMU-CURE, more a scalpel than a cudgel that might be necessary under CBD zoning, Siff said. DMU zoning provided a “more malleable” palette of options.


Thrower, on the other hand, provided an elevation of the surrounding blocks that provided a conceptual idea of the entitlements in the area. CBD, given the surrounding properties, just made more sense on the fraction of the block and it would provide consistency across the block for development. He admitted his preference had less to do with the compatibility or design standards for DMU.


Unfortunately for Thrower, he was swimming upstream. Commissioner Mandy Dealey, for instance, was ready to slap even more restrictive requirements on Thrower’s properties, setting out the same limitations as the block directly to the east of the property, which included setback and step-back requirements. It also would have required Thrower’s project to be 75 percent residential.


When asked directly whether he would support such constraints, however, Siff said the neighborhood association considered each zoning case on its individual merits, as negotiations evolve. The agreed-to concessions on these two properties reflected the fact it was only half a block, it was constrained on one corner by the Capitol View Corridor and it would continue to house a restaurant.


“I’m really not authorized to ask for anything more or less,” Siff said.


Commissioner Alfonso Hernandez said he would object to Dealey’s proposal, saying that the case appeared to clearly outline the one issue of contention between the neighborhood and property owner. Dealey’s motion went down on a 4-3 vote, failing to gather the super-majority to override owner opposition. Commissioner Saundra Kirk was absent from the meeting.


At that point, Commissioner Danette Chimenti moved for the DMU-CURE zoning, with conditions, supported by the neighborhoods. That motion prevailed on a vote of 5-2, with Commissioners Richard Hatfield and Tina Bui dissenting.

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