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Environmental panel OKs apartment development on RunTex’s site

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

A planned high-density apartment community across Lady Bird Lake from City Hall and its associated planned unit development narrowly won a recommendation from the Environmental Board.


The board last week recommended approval of the planned unit development (or PUD), which would be named Broadstone at the Lake, in a vote of 4-3. In their recommendation, the board asked staff to investigate alternative methods of rainwater collection, rain gardens and larger trees. Board members Jennifer Walker, Robin Gary and Marisa Perales voted against the recommendation.


The proposed PUD is a 353,000-square-foot building that would have about 9,000-square feet of commercial uses on the first and second floors and about 240 multifamily units above. The building is slated for a site at South First Street and Riverside Drive that is the location of the flagship RunTex running apparel store. The property’s landlord is David Dunlap, while the developer of the proposed Broadside apartments reportedly is Alliance Residential Co., a Phoenix-based company that has built five apartment communities in Austin, four of which include Broadstone as part of the name, according to its website.


A three-level parking garage, with two levels below ground, will replace the current surface lot on the site. The developers propose designing the garage to mitigate stormwater runoff, essentially limiting it to roof water much like the parking garage design at City Hall.


PUD officials are not seeking any environmental variances, but they were required to present the project to the board as part of the approval process. They were requesting a waiver from on-site stormwater detention, which would be fulfilled instead by paying a fee-in-lieu and providing water quality for another site. The waiver will ultimately be voted on by City Council.


Board member Mary Anne Neely was initially concerned about water from the site running off into nearby Lady Bird Lake. But she was mollified once it was explained that this runoff would consist of roof rainwater that will be conveyed directly to the lake via a pipe.


“Essentially, there’s no reason to treat water that comes off a roof. That’s the water you would just put on plants without having to clean up,” Neely said. “That’s what we want in the lake.”


Staff supported a fee-in-lieu for one acre of the 1.53-acre site, meaning that PUD officials agreed to treat previously untreated runoff on .53 acres of another site where it will hopefully have a greater impact.


Chuck Lesniak, environmental officer of the city’s Watershed Protection Department, said that the superiority of the environmental controls could be arguable. The water that will come off of the roof, which could be treated with an on-site underground detention pond, is potentially much cleaner than water on another site that could run over a roadway before cascading into Lady Bird Lake.


Lesniak went on to say that because the city struggles to find places to spend money in the urban core, the fee-in-lieu is not their most desired option in general, but the covered ponds that would be built as an alternative were also an unappealing option.


Because a density bonus program has not yet been established for the Waterfront Overlay District, developers are going through the PUD process to gain additional height for the building. Any building on the site is currently limited to 60 feet in height, and developers hope to have up to 75 feet in height, or one additional story, for their building.


Additionally, explained Michael Whellan, an attorney representing the developers, they would be asking for a 15-foot setback instead of the 35-foot setback from Riverside that was “unusual” for the urban core, and elimination of a step-back requirement.


“We would happily wait for the density bonus if it was going to be 30 days or 60 days. But we’ve been told the best case scenario is a year, year and a half, two years,” said Whellan. “They’ve just begun, at the Waterfront Overlay Advisory Board, to begin the discussion. … It’ll be a long journey.”


PUDs are a type of development that permit a developer to meet overall Austin density and land use goals without being bound by existing zoning requirements. While PUDs have traditionally been limited to development that is more than 10 acres, Planning and Development Review’s Heather Chaffin explained that the convergence of several overlays, the setbacks on the site and the configuration of the lot leaves very little developable area, constituting a special circumstance that qualifies it for the PUD process.

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