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Council postpones approval of Green Water Treatment site sale

Friday, April 6, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Members of the City Council remain concerned about a host of details associated with the sale of the site of the city’s former Green Water Treatment Plant. As a result, they’ve pushed a vote on the agreement that will govern the sale until their April 26 meeting.


In the meantime, Council members will look for the developers – a partnership that includes Constructive Ventures and the Trammell Crow Company – to work on a set of worker safety and compensation standards and to include more affordable housing in the project.


Council Member Kathie Tovo pushed hard on the affordable housing issue. “I just want to be very clear about one thing,” she said. “It was the expectation, as far as I can tell…that these units would provide long-term affordability.”


Tovo called for the adoption of a 40-year term to be applied to the affordable units in the Green project. Developers have proposed to offer only seven years of affordable housing.


The Green Water Treatment Plant redevelopment project goes back to a 2008 Council vote that awarded the effort to Trammell Crow and its partners. Along with the redevelopment of the former Seaholm power plant site, the Green project would complete a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use corridor that would stretch along Second Street to the Austin Convention Center.


The sale of the former Green site to Trammell Crow’s group would earn the city just over $42 million. Those funds have already been committed to a host of projects in the area.


According to a presentation delivered to Council members two weeks ago, the project will bring in $112 million in property tax revenue and $9.6 million of sales tax revenue over 30 years. There will also be almost $5 million in development fees and another $500,000 if the project is accepted into the downtown Public Improvement District. (See In Fact Daily, March 23, 2012.)


If the project holds as-is – which is no guarantee – 10 percent of the 826 planned apartments in the Green redevelopment project will be reserved for affordable housing. There would also be 200 hotel rooms, 82,000 square feet of retail space, and 456,000 square feet of office space.


Mayor Lee Leffingwell asked staff to examine the possibility of using money from the Affordable Housing Trust fund “to…extend the term of affordable housing and/or the number of affordable housing units.” His request seems to signal that Council Members are ready to increase both the length of the affordable housing commitment and the number of units set aside.


Though the push from Tovo and Council Member Laura Morrison for more affordable housing stood out, Council members also seem ready to attach a set of worker protections to the Green project. They took similar action in approving last month’s economic development agreement with Apple, Inc.


Indeed, before the meeting Council Member Mike Martinez took part in a rally organized by the Workers Defense Project. There, he said that he plans to make worker safety and compensation issues a formal part of the city’s project evaluation matrix. “As soon as (the Green) deal is done, I’ve committed with Workers Defense to work on changing the scoring criteria and matrix for any future deal so that Councils in the future don’t have to make amendments at the last minute,” he said.


Back inside chambers, Martinez made a pitch to postpone the item almost immediately. “Quite honestly, I think there’s…way too much left (to do),” he said. “We need to get this proposal right.”

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