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Planning Commission backs CURE zoning for downtown office high rise

Friday, May 11, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

The Planning Commission has given its blessing to developers seeking CURE zoning for a downtown high rise that will be the first to comply with the Downtown Austin Plan.

 

The site, located at Third and Colorado Street, had been granted CURE zoning previously, but a restrictive covenant limited that to hotel use only. Developers now plan to build a 30 story, 426,000 square foot office building on the site with retail and restaurant space on the ground floor.

 

The CURE zoning will increase the allowed floor-to-area-ratio FAR) from 8:1 to 15:1.

 

“Here is the opportunity to comply with the aspects of the Downtown Plan, and include within that the density bonus calculation…This project, I think, will be the first that has ever gone down that road, either under the interim density bonus plan, or the new one and I can’t think of a better project to set that standard,” said attorney Steve Drenner, a member of the Winstead firm.

 

City Council adopted the Downtown Austin Plan in December, but it has yet to be codified. Developers have voluntarily chosen to abide by the terms of the plan, including what they dubbed “The Spelman Proposal,” which allows developers to use up to 50 percent of density bonus funds for dedicated project community benefits and 50 percent as a cash payment for affordable housing.

 

In this case, Drenner estimates they will contribute about $440,000 to the city’s affordable housing. Because the plan has not been codified, this donation will be assured by a private voluntary covenant between the developers and a housing non-profit, in order to not run afoul of contract zoning laws.

 

Commissioner Mandy Dealey asked why they did not opt to use the interim density bonus program, which is still in effect and has yet to be used.

 

“It gets there a much different way,” said Drenner, who explained that under the interim density bonus plan, they would have a required payment of $2 million, about half of which would go to affordable housing, but not have to fulfill “gatekeeper requirements” such as participation in green building programs, pedestrian-oriented uses on the ground floor, or treatment of the proposed 13-story garage.

 

“I think it’s the right thing for the project,” said Drenner. “I think it’s a better program.”

 

“One of the reasons that I think, frankly, that nobody every used the program is it’s all about the cash payment. It’s not about the project. And so, I think the reason for the Spelman proposal and the staff recommendation part of that was they wanted to balance. We want some things. We want green builder, and we want greater community benefits,” said Drenner.

 

In addition to participation in the new density bonus program, the building will participate in the Great Streets program, build to at least a three-star Austin Energy Green Building Rating, and comply “substantially” with established urban design guidelines. Prior to issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy, they will provide evidence that the project meets the requirements of the Downtown Austin Plan.

 

Tim Hendricks, VP of Cousins Properties Inc., explained why his company, which was responsible for the construction of the last office high rise downtown, Frost Bank Tower, decided it was time for another.

 

“The market’s getting too tight. It’s been over ten years since we’ve added any new office product to downtown, and when you look at a market that is approaching over 88 percent occupied, that’s where we are today, that’s quickly becoming full occupancy,” said Hendricks.

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